Let the Cupsets Begin: #USOC2023 Second Round Preview

American soccer’s oldest and most venerable tournament moves into its Second Round between 4-6 April – when the pros join the party and the peril of the Cupset looms large.
By: Jonah Fontela

There will be Cupsets.

The Second Round of the Open Cup is the first opportunity for teams from different divisions, pro and amateur, to meet in direct competition. And with history as a guide, we can safely assume that some top dogs will indeed be bested.

Between April 4-6 there will be 29 games. Eight of them will see Open Division amateur winners from the First Round take on second-division pro teams from the USL Championship. Six more games will be between First Round winners and third-division pros from USL League One and NISA. And, finally, 15 games will see second-division clubs take on sides from the third-division.

Now all that’s left to find out is who’ll move on to the Third Round, when 18 MLS sides join the fray.

Open Division Underdogs a Hungry Bunch

One of the big results of last month’s First Round (between March 21-23) came out of the High Country of Boone, North Carolina. The colorful Appalachian FC, of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), rode two goals from former Syracuse standout Camden Holbrook against NC Fusion U23, and survived a tense shootout, to book a place in the Second Round.

App FC now meet third-tier pros Charlotte Independence, who’ve been Cupset by amateur teams in every Open Cup since 2017.

“It’s just a massive carrot that’s being dangled in front of us,” said Appalachian FC coach Dale Parker, sensing an opportunity for his side and their legions of fans. “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. If that doesn’t get you excited you shouldn’t be playing.”

Appalachian FC are one of this year’s underdog darlings

The amateurs of Chicago House AC travel to Wisconsin to take on third-division pros Forward Madison after grinding out a 1-0 win over Milwaukee’s Bavarians in the First Round. Led by veteran goalkeeper Tony Halterman, and young coach Matt Poland, the House will look to keep the party going in a game defined in large part by the involvement of Peter Wilt – former Chicago Fire President and GM.

Wilt, the grassroots American soccer impresario and Open Cup evangelist, founded Chicago House in 2020, just two years after he helped get Forward Madison up and running.

Up in the Northeast, Lansdowne Yonkers FC, the amateur outfit with Irish roots who were crowned national amateur champions in 2021, travel for a second straight game in Connecticut’s capital. There they’ll take on USL Championship pros Hartford Athletic, coached by former U.S. Men’s National Team star Tab Ramos, in hopes of causing a sensation.

Lansdowne Yonkers return to Hartford for a second Round in a row

“We want to make some noise,” said England-born Yonkers striker Shamir Mullings. 

Not far away, in Upstate New York, Flower City Union – the pros from third-division league NISA – will have their hands full when Manhattan SC, the youngsters from USL League Two who knocked off amateur powerhouse Motown FC in the First Round, head north in search of a Cupset.

The amateur Ocean City Nor’easters of New Jersey – who managed to turn a patched-together team into a winner against West Chester United in the First Round – head down to take on the Maryland Bobcats (NISA). One wonders what an extra couple of weeks together might do for the impressive Ocean City men built, to a large degree, on friends, and friends of friends – and hoping for a deep Cup run.

There’s a derby in Oklahoma to look forward to as amateurs Tulsa Athletic host FC Tulsa of the USL Championship at Hicks Park with city bragging rights and a place in the Third Round on the line. Elsewhere, in the Sunshine State, there are a pair of Florida-on-Florida contests with Miami FC of the USL Championship hosting NPSL amateurs Jacksonville Armada. Over in Tampa Bay, the Rowdies (USL Championship) take on Nona FC – the tournament newcomers from Orlando. 

We have two former champions of the Open Cup in action in the Second Round. The Richmond Kickers – led by head coach and one-time tournament runner-up Darren Sawatsky – hold the distinction of being crowned the first champs of the Open Cup’s modern-era in 1995. And they’ll tangle with the gritty part-timers of Cleveland SC, out of the NPSL, at City Stadium in Virginia. Not incidentally, it’s the site of a famous 2017 Cupset when Baltimore-based sunday-leaguers Christos FC knocked out these very same Kickers.

And out west, El Farolito, who were known as CD Mexico in 1993 when they won the Cup in its all-amateur and semi-pro days, are in action. They’ll take on second-division pros Oakland Roots who are looking for their first Open Cup win in history (in only their second appearance).

In other California-related affairs, Orange County SC – winners of the USL Championship in 2021 – take on Capo FC, a group of self-starters from San Juan Capistrano who’ve built themselves into a competitive club from the grassroots on up.

Capo FC are flying in their first-ever Open Cup

Farther North in the Golden State, USL Championship side Sacramento Republic, who last year became the first non-MLS team to reach an Open Cup Final since 2008, open their account against Crossfire Redmond. The Washington State-based youngsters were impressive when they beat Oakland Roots’ academy boys, Project 510, in the First Round.

Rounding out the Open Division v Pro contest of the Second Round are clashes between 2019 Quarterfinalists New Mexico United (USL Championship) and UDA Soccer, a college-affiliated team out of Las Cruces who are living out a dream in the 2023 Open Cup.

Also, one of the big games to watch will be played out between Des Moines Menace – noted Open Cup giant-killers – and Chattanooga FC of NISA.

Divisions Two and Three Collide

There are also mouth-watering prospects among the 15 games that pit the USL Championship pros of the second tier against the third-division combatants from USL League One and NISA.

A home contest for Union Omaha – the USL League One team that beat two MLS sides last year to reach all the way to the Quarterfinals – will see USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive look to get a rare win in the Open Cup on the road.

Las Vegas Lights
(USL Championship) host NISA’s LA Force out west, near where Central Valley Fuego (USL League One) tangle with Monterey Bay FC of the USL Championship. Phoenix Rising, who won the 2019 USL Championship regular season, host USL League One side Greenville Triumph

And in another city derby, San Diego Loyal, part owned by USMNT legend Landon Donovan, open their doors for neighbors ALBION San Diego of NISA. In one of the most anticipated games of the Second Round, we have another crosstown tangle between Detroit City FC – who beat MLS’ Columbus Crew in last year’s Open Cup – and brand new Motor City side Gold Star Detroit (NISA) in Hamtramck.

Indy Eleven
of the USL Championship look to get a rare Cup run going when they open against Michigan Stars FC (NISA). And Louisville City, serial winners in the USL Championship, will try to shake off a rough start to the season when they meet up with NISA neighbors Lexington Sporting Club.

Detroit City started a 2022 Open Cup run with a home win against MLS’ Columbus Crew

Loudoun United FC (USL Championship) make their Open Cup debut against USL League One side North Carolina FC, while 2008 runners-up Charleston Battery (USL Championship) host Savannah Clovers FC of NISA.

Club de Lyon (NISA) travel to high-flying San Antonio FC, who happen to boast the USL Championship’s reigning goalkeeper of the year, Jordan Farr – while One Knoxville SC (NISA) welcome Memphis 901 of the USL Championship.

Chattanooga Red Wolves of USL League One host Birmingham Legion (USL Championship) and South Georgia Tormenta, who had a hot run in the early rounds of last year’s Open Cup, debut their new stadium in Statesboro against Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (USL Championship).

And finally, an all-Colorado collision will see USL League One’s Northern Colorado Hailstorm – who beat MLS’ Real Salt Lake in last year’s Open Cup – travel to take on USL Championship side Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

Be sure to watch featured games of the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup LIVE on the Bleacher Report App, B/R Football YouTube – and via the various club-produced ‘TeamCasts’.

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