Orlando City boss Oscar Pareja, a U.S. Open Cup-winner in 2016 during his time with FC Dallas, is eager to add a second crown to his personal trophy cabinet – and a first for his new club since joining MLS in 2015. But the 54-year-old Colombian tactician will have his hands full when he sends his Major League Soccer (MLS) side out against the Sacramento Republic led by 40-year-old wizard Mark Briggs. The English-born manager is up near the top of a pack of talented young managers rising through the ranks of the USL Championship and the rhetorical question he asked before the Semifinal win over Sporting KC – why not us? – has become a rallying cry for his lower-league underdogs.
Read on to see what both coaches are thinking on the cusp of the September 7 Final from Orlando’s Exploria Stadium (broadcast LIVE at 8pm ET on ESPN+ – the official home of the U.S. Open Cup)
What would you say is the main factor that helped catapult your team to the 2022 Open Cup Final?
Mark Briggs (Sacramento Republic): I’d say it’s our togetherness as a group. The trust we have in one another and our belief that we can actually accomplish our goal are major elements.
Oscar Pareja (Orlando City): The connection the players have – and the ambition among those players to deliver a trophy to the city of Orlando. The concentration the players have had to respond so well while playing on two fronts, that requires a lot of commitment. They’ve connected those two things well – playing for MLS Cup and the Open Cup. And that seriousness has helped us move step by step to a Final.
One win away from making history for your club, what’s the main message you’ll want to deliver to your team in the days leading up to the Final?
MB (SR): I want them to know we've done fantastic to get this far. That this is just another game. It's the same game that you've played your whole lives. So go out and enjoy the game, enjoy the occasion, and play with courage and belief.
OP (OC): I will remind them to keep their feet on the ground. Don’t be too worried and make things too tense in the game. But we can’t be overconfident and feel like things are done. We have to be in the middle ground where we can be responsible enough to do our job, but confident enough to put in a good performance and use the fans and the occasion to get the game won.
How much of a factor do you expect the venue to be?
MB (SR): It's gonna’ be a big factor. We're going into an intimidating atmosphere…into an atmosphere that will energize the home stadium. It's going to be an atmosphere that's got 25,000 fans gunning for Orlando and we've got to be able to handle that intimidation.
OP (OC): It will be my first time seeing Exploria full, I admit. And it’s the result of reaching a good point with the team this season. Achieving the objective [winning the Cup] would be the maximum feeling, but to see the stadium full will please us and make us feel very happy. This means we’re moving in the right direction.
Can you point to a specific moment that defines your Cup run so far – and maybe acted as a turning point?
MB (SR): [Goalkeeper] Danny Vitiello's penalty save against Phoenix [Rising] in the early rounds is one. And then you'd have to say when we scored the own-goal against LA Galaxy [in the Quarterfinal] to tie the game 1-1. You saw the group come together then. You saw the group show belief and you saw the group stand up and say we can do this, which they did.
OP (OC): The game against New York [Red Bulls, in the Semifinal]. It was a difficult time for us in the league and the team showed up and put in such a good performance [a 5-1 win]. The boys did an excellent job and beat a very good rival that day. From that point we understood that we can beat anyone. All the games were important, but that one showed us something.
There always seems to be a little more tension in a Cup Final. What are you expecting from this game – with a national trophy on the line?
MB (SR): When Finals take place, they're very cautious games because players and coaches know that there's a lot at stake. I expect this one to be no different. We've just got to go in there and enjoy the occasion, enjoy the game, and like I said: have the team play without fear and play with courage. Because we don't have any pressure. Nobody expects us to win.
OP (OC): I’m expecting to win. To get the job done. Finals always have that kind of characteristic. There’s no tomorrow, right? There’s no way to fix anything. This is it and we have to be prepared to understand the nature of a Final. Everything about a Final is out there on the day.
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.