Independence History Hints at Cupset Potential for Appalachian FC

Appalachian FC will be big underdogs in the Second Round – but a look at their opponent Charlotte Independence’s recent Cup woes gives cause for cautious optimism in the High Country.
By: Jonah Fontela

If we use recent Open Cup history as a guide, Appalachian FC – the Squatchy homespun club out of Boone, North Carolina – might just be in line to set off Cupset fireworks in the Second Round.

For every Cupset there is a Cupsetter and a Cupsettee. The view from the latter’s vantage is miserable. Just ask Charlotte Independence, who’ve made a habit of spilling the beer against amateur opposition in recent years.

On paper, the men from the High Country are heavy underdogs against the current USL League One leaders from Charlotte. It's a simple arithmetic. When pro clubs meet amateurs, it usually goes the way of the full-timers. But the beauty of our Cup lives in those moments when all doesn’t go according to script. 

The First Fall

Since 2018, the Independence, who dropped down to USL’s League One from the Championship in 2022, have lost every outing they’ve had against an amateur foe. In that year’s Second Round, they were stunned at home by noted Cupsetters Ocean City Nor’easters – who were forced to travel over 600 miles and ran out 3-1 winners on the day.

“We’re thrilled to add to this club’s great history in this tournament,” said then Nor’easters coach John Thompson in direct counterpoint to the vibe among Charlotte supporters who left the Sportsplex at Matthews crestfallen that night.

They had a chance to right the ship the very next year, when they faced off with Florida’s Soccer Soldiers – a men’s league team short on pedigree and wearing matching hi-vis neon-green t-shirts as uniforms. Once again, the Cupset gods were interested in the outcome and the Independence, coached at the time by famed Gaelic football manager Jim McGuinness, came out on the wrong side.

Such was the quality of the performance put in by Argentine-born Soccer Soldier Valentin Sabella that night that the beaten Independence signed him up to a pro contract. He’s since moved on to USL League One side Northern Colorado Hailstorm and will likely star in the Open Cup again this year.

Considering the circumstances, the two-year break in Open Cup play, caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, might have come as a relief to the Charlotte Independence. But on the other side of the break lurked more heartache – and a loss, again, in the Second Round.

This time it was a patched-together bunch from USL League Two – an NC Fusion U23 side put together at the last-minute. The fourth and final goal in the 4-2 Fusion win, scored by academy youngster William Lorentz, who had to get up early to go to high school the next day, was one of the sensations of the early rounds of the 2022 tournament.

It’s that very NC Fusion side that Appalachian FC beat at home via a penalty shootout last week to reach this Second Round perch and the start of what we like to call Cupset Season.

So here we are, and Charlotte Independence – a club where the players get paid to play and are in admittedly sizzling form atop the USL League One standings – have another chance to prove their worth. This time it’s against a team of part-timers with day jobs, high hopes and a Sasquatch on the bench.

Appalachian in Pouncing Position

And if you think the debutants from the High Country are just happy to be here, awaiting the first chance to roll over for their betters, well, think again.

“It’s a massive carrot that’s being dangled in front of us,” said App FC coach Dale Parker, who’s dreaming of a chance to take on an MLS team in the Third Round – maybe even at home in Boone. “The motivation is you’re getting an opportunity to bring an MLS team, at some point, to your home town. To the community that’s been coming out to your games for two years now. If that doesn’t get you excited you shouldn’t be playing.”

Nothing is written in stone, one way or the other, but with history guiding the way, Appalachian FC have reason to believe. And Charlotte Independence, who last won a game in the Open Cup way back in 2017, well, there’s cause for concern.   

Fontela is editor-in-chief of Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.