The Great Eight (Round Three): Teenage Abandon & Pinho Power as the King of Hamtramck Strikes Again

The latest in our Great Eight Series, where we take an open-hearted Round-by-Round look at some of the quirkier happenings and thematics of America’s favorite soccer tournament.
By: Jonah Fontela

Fans of the historic Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Third Round of the 2024 competition tossed up a good few of those between April 16 and 17. Join for a look back at eight moments of note from the 16 games that saw an eight-goal thriller, a handful of teenagers get their kicks and a wave goodbye to El Farolito and our last remaining amateur strivers.

Maxi the Gem of Gritty Detroit City 

A player of vision and grace, you can’t miss Maxi Rodriguez, or his tangle of long dark hair, out on the worn Keyworth turf. He shines like a shard of sea glass on a tired riverside. He’s at the heart of everything good that happens in Hamtramck. And while the fans in that little enclave can be rough, Rodriguez is possessor of an elegance that elevates the whole scene. It’s not only his goal-littered start to the 2024 USL Championship campaign and epic moments in the Open Cup, like 2022’s win over Columbus Crew and this week’s late winner in a testy derby with old foes the Michigan Stars – it’s his commitment to what goes on there in that gruff (and always colorful) corner of the American scene. It’s worth remembering that this player, a symbol of success and style for DCFC, went undrafted out of college, drifted through the lower leagues while DoorDashing and UPS driving to make ends meet, before finding a home in Hamtramck. Sometimes you just need the right fit. And you’re damn lucky if you find it.      

Sunday League Dreamers & El Farolito

Imagine Maxi Rodriguez, bowing to hard realities, didn't find his rouge-tinted glass slipper in Detroit. It would be a club just like El Farolito where he’d spend his Sundays, playing on the side and forcing the question from teammates and opponents alike: ‘What’s this guy doing here?’ El Faro, the amateur club born in a dark bar and amid the life-giving forces of food and family in San Francisco’s Mission District, caught the Open Cup imagination this year. They beat Portland Timbers 2 and then Central Valley Fuego before losing out, in a tight and tense contest, to the Oakland Roots. The $25,000 prize El Farolito pockets as the amateur side to make it farthest in this year’s tournament won’t change anyone’s life. But we do hope it helps keep this club – our national champions back in the rough-and-tumble days of 1993 – coming back and back again to help us dream some more.

Rhode Island FC had some hard luck in their Open Cup debut

Historic Rhode Island’s Cup Run Undone 

Sometimes we have to imagine what might have been. Rhode Island FC, playing in their first season as a club, we’re all lined up for an Open Cup run. The City of Pawtucket was the venue of our first Final in 1914, RIFC’s coached by a 2007 Open Cup winner in Khano Smith – and founded by another in native-born Michael Parkhurst. The stars were all aligned for the Cup old meeting the Cup new. But Charlotte Independence, of a division below the Rhode Islanders, had other ideas. They never went away in a back-and-forth game that ended 4-4 and stood out for the drama it offered us. When shootout time came, the script was already written and editor-approved. Albert Dikwa, hero of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ run to the Quarterfinals last year, and Joe Brito, hero of Union Omaha’s run to that same vaunted stage in 2022, were lined up among Rhode Island’s five kick-takers. But the Open Cup respects no scripts and into the bin it went. Charlotte goalkeeper Austin Pack was the hero this day and Little Rhody’s Cup glories will remain, for the time being, in the deep and inky past.

Teenage Sensations

It was a round for the babies. For the young ones, unsure on shaky legs, trying to see if all the sacrifice and training and barking coaches made any kind of difference in the end. Four games were decided by teenagers, debutants some, but fresh faces all. Ali Elmasnaouy, just 18 and making his pro debut, scored the winner for Oakland Roots against El Farolito to cap the first day of play. Day Two, well, that was a baby bonanza. A trio of American teenagers got their kicks and then some with game-winning goals in three of the night’s eleven games. Maximo Carrizo, just 16, did it for NYCFC II in an upset over Championship side Hartford Athletic. Mark Bronnik, 17 and looking closer to 14, scored the essential winning penalty in a shootout win for Union Omaha over El Paso Locomotive. And Nighte Pickering, old man of the trio at 19, scored both in a 2-0 win for Memphis 901 over Sunday’s lone remaining amateur outfit Miami United FC. It would seem that the kids, as they say, might be all right.       

Four Stars for Pinho (Again)

Stefano Pinho, at 33, is no spring chicken. The striker is 33 and it’s safe to say he’s seen and done many, many things on a soccer field. But what he did in Montevallo, Alabama on Wednesday was outrageous, bordering on unseemly. With his Birmingham Legion on the road against the underdog Chattanooga Red Wolves, and facing a Cupset after going down early, the Brazilian-born striker scored four second half goals (in minutes 48', 80', 105'+1 and 107'). He made quick work of equalling his top-scorer tally from the 2017 Open Cup (4) when he and a then NASL-based Miami FC led by Italian World Cup winner Alesandro Nesta stormed through to the Quarterfinals. F. Scott Fitzgerald is rumored to have said: “there are no second acts in American Life.” We’re not entirely sure what that means, but we do accept one thing as a certainty: there are second halves. Stefano Pinho knows.

Hit & Hope Springs Eternal

Andre Lewis was a desperate man. There were seconds left and his Spokane Velocity were losing by one at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. Only time for mayhem and an all-or-nothing gamble. So he spun off his man 40 yards from goal (that man was happy to let him shoot from there – who wouldn’t be?). The Jamaican hit a knuckler with only power and long-hopes behind it. And this being Vegas, the long shot ended up in the goal too. We shouldn’t be too hard on Las Vegas Lights’ goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena for it was one of those shots that comes at you like a bad dream. It wasn’t enough to save Spokane Velocity, though. Down a man, they lost in extra time. But it was a testament to the old cliche that you can’t score if you don’t shoot. And it was the second last-gasp decider of Velocity’s debut Open Cup for that man Andre Lewis – who did something similar in the First Round (from much closer in) at historic Memorial Stadium in Seattle to send amateurs Ballard FC back home wondering what might have been. 

South Georgia Tormenta at it again

The Numbers

We hear the kids like stats and various other numerological phenomena. At our age it seems silly to focus on such matters, but we’ll try. We always try. We saw 50 goals fall in this Third Round – that’s just north of three per game. And that’s a number we like. A number El Paso Locomotive won’t like is zero (which technically might not be a number). It’s the amount of times they’ve won in the Open Cup – and, up to this point, in the 2024 USL Championship regular season. It’s also the number of goals they scored before losing to Union Omaha for the second straight year. Let’s not forget South Georgia Tormenta of USL League One – they’re off on another run with a Cupset of Miami FC (they’re fifth Cup win over a team ranked higher than them since 2019). Legion man Pinho bagging four goals wasn't the first time someone’s done that in the Modern Era – but he’s only the second to score all four after halftime. he now has nine career Open Cup goals (which ties him for 15th in the Modern Era). This info comes from our friends at -- they love stats and we love them. 

A Fond Farewell

It’s always the hard part. Saying goodbye to those who’ve given so much to what makes the Magic of the Open Cup. But we must. And so we do. A trio of inspiring amateurs went out in our Third Round – the swashbuckling Lubbock Matadors out of West Texas, El Farolito and Miami United FC. All took down professional opponents this year and all will be remembered as part of our larger Open Cup Family. We’ll see you all again soon, we hope. We hope also to see again those NISA standouts Michigan Stars and Irvine Zeta, who showed the best of that league’s promise this year. Richmond Kickers – our 1995 champions and dear old friends – how close you came to causing another sensation. And we must mention Carolina Core, the promising Hartford Athletic and Spokane’s Velocity too – we’ll miss all of you. 

So, that’s where we leave it. Let’s take a breath, gather ourselves and go again – for a Round of 32 between May 7th and 8th that welcomes the rest of the USL Championship field and eight sides from Major League Soccer (MLS). 

See you soon, friends.

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