The Great Eight (Round of 32): Goalkeepers Soak the Spotlight as Detroit City & New Mexico United Toss the Script

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
New Mexico United fans cheer from the stands during a Round of 32 match in the 2024 US Open Cup
New Mexico United fans cheer from the stands during a Round of 32 match in the 2024 US Open Cup

Fans of the historic Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Round of 32 of the 2024 competition tossed up a good few of those between May 7 and 8. Join for a look back at eight moments of note from the 16 games in which 59 goals were scored (almost four per game), a pair of hat-tricks hit the net and Division II USL Championship sides Detroit City FC and New Mexico United threw made some massive waves (once again).

Atlanta’s Old Man Dax

Dax McCarty is at that autumn age. And 37 is pushing it. On the pitch in Kennesaw, he was surrounded by kids. Raw and hungry, fresh from Atlanta United’s talent laboratory, many of his teammates were half his age. He was the wise old head amid the jitters that can accompany Cup play. Early on, he laid a ball back at the edge of the opponents’ penalty area – and it rolled into the no man’s land occupied seconds earlier by one of his fellow midfielders. The result was a furious counter-attack the other way by Charlotte Independence. McCarty tracked – all the way back, 80 yards and more. A lot of distance for aging lungs. When it became clear that the only solution was to foul and take the yellow, he didn’t hesitate. Tactical foul. Professional foul. Call it what you want, it was needed. It was the required action of a man who knows how quickly early deficits can turn a Cup game wrong. In the end, Atlanta won out 3-0 and he earned all the hugs he got from his young son, watching on proud from the stands.

While we’re at it, let’s shout out to some of the other aging heroes in our Round of 32. Gabriel Obertan, 35, was on the opposite side of the field in Kennesaw and Kei Kamara – an Open Cup Champion in Kansas City more than a decade ago – scored his first for LAFC at the ripe old age of 39.

Detroit City & the Never-Ending Gritty

They dismiss you all the time, Detroit City. They say you can’t do it away from Keyworth, your spiritual home and nightmare factory for traveling fans. They wrote you off before the game began, out on the road in Texas in high heat and muggy as hell, and they underlined what they wrote when Griffin Dorsey and Mexico icon Hector Hererra were spotted in reigning champion Houston Dynamo’s starting XI. When you went down 2-0 inside 30 minutes, you were dead and buried. But there’s Cup magic in Le Rouge, a compulsion to never, ever go away. Ryan Williams’ screamer hit the top corner like a dream on the stroke of halftime and it started something unreal. Of course Maxi Rodriguez, cast off by so many club’s before finding a home in Hamtramck, would score with seven minutes left in regular time to make it 3-3 and force OT. And after ten rounds of penalties, it was the holders, with a huge payroll and recent memories of beating Inter Miami and lifting our Open Cup, who fell to the permanent underdogs of the Motor City. It’s the magic spice of the Cup, that grit. That never, ever giving up. Knowing that anything is possible while life remains – and that no party is so precious that it can’t be spoiled.

Goalkeepers Soak the Spotlight

Carlos Saldaña was the hero's name. The Mexico-born keeper – usually a back-up to Michigan legend Nate Steinwascher – stepped up to slam home the winning spot-kick for Detroit City seconds after his opposite number, Andrew Tarbell, hit high and wide. Saldaña was mobbed by his teammates for his part in one of the biggest upsets in Open Cup history. “It’s a chance for the keepers to be the hero, to celebrate like the scorers get to,” said Charleston Battery’s Cup hero keeper Adam Grinwis – who’s also through to this year’s Round of 16. He’s not wrong about the ratcheted-up stakes and drama of a shootout. Later in the round, Andrew Thomas had his moment out in the wilds of Tukwila, Washington – where the Sasquatches lurk and the Seattle Sounders play their early-round Open Cup games. The goalkeeper, a raving mass of energy, saved two and stepped up to the spot himself with the game on the line. He hit the eighth and decisive kick low and with everything he had, just the way goalkeepers hate it.

Those New Mexican Evenings

The venue: Isotopes Park – Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those who remember back to 2019, the name New Mexico United should ring a bell. That year, their first as a club, they beat two MLS teams on the road to reach our Quarterfinal. It was a glory, and a majesty, and it ended in a heavy beating by MLS’ Minnesota United at their just-built wonder-stage of Allianz Field. But this year is a new year, and a visit from MLS’ Real Salt Lake was the first for NMU in the Open Cup at their beloved home of Isotopes Park. it’s a converted baseball field, one of three in play in our Round of 32. The angles are awkward, of course, but the energy, as the sun set low over the desert around the city, home of melancholy sunsets, was perfect. So was the crowd, buzzing with the possibilities. Two-goal soccer Zico Bailey buzzed too – and helped send Diego Luna and his 2023 Open Cup Semifinalists RSL out of the competition.

Tampa Bay’s Irrational Masterpiece

Another former-baseball field was on display in Tampa Bay. Let us never – as long we live and have breath to pass on stories – forget what happened there on May 8th, 2024. The home Rowdies were cruising, up by four (FOUR) with ten minutes to go. Cal Jennings’ hat-trick (one of two on the second night of this round) made it so. Then, as if the gods were angry or a cosmic storm had broken out, Birmingham Legion, led by the excellent Enzo Martinez, went nuts. They scored four (FOUR) in those ten remaining minutes to force extra-time as a long night settled over the Al Lang Stadium and the Bay behind it. In the end, the home team still won (6-4 in OT) and the winning goal was nothing short of a fever dream. Manuel Arteaga’s bicycle kick seemed to happen in slow motion, and will forever live on as an exclamation point to one of the wildest Open Cup games in history.

Leggett & Loudoun Rise

Speaking of Sunsets, we can’t leave out Irvine and its Championship Soccer Stadium. The sun took its time heading down over the Southern California horizon, painting in its purple and yellow-reds. Loudoun United, out of Leesburg, Virginia and playing in only their second Open Cup, had to travel the whole length of the country for their Round of 32 test against Orange County SC. Far from lethargic after the journey, Wesley Leggett scored both in a 2-1 win. His first came, as if art-directed by some Hollywood genius, at the apex of sunset. In the Magic Hour, or the Golden Hour as the movie folks call it, Leggett raced through the opponent’s half, in the blast of approaching last light, before turning the corner to score in the 22nd minute – the first in a 2-1 win for the Loudoners who now head to a first-ever Round of 16.

Bay Area USOC Legends Honored

San Jose, where the home Earthquakes beat local Division II rivals Oakland Roots, was the site of a reunion. The good folks in charge of the host club took time out to honor local Open Cup history-makers at the halftime interval. They brought Cup heroes of yesteryear – invited guests for the evening – out onto the field to be honored. Members of the 1992 San Jose Oaks, 1993’s El Farolito and 1994 Greek Americans (three-in-a-row Open Cup Champions from the Bay Area) were presented with Quakes jerseys, their winning year splashed across the back, and treated to a rousing round of applause from home and away fans both. Remember your past, folks. Quakes coach Luchi Gonzalez does. He once played for amateur darlings El Farolito and he proudly joined in for the photo-op. There’s no American Soccer Now and no American Soccer Then – only American soccer. So let’s praise it and raise it.

Union Omaha #70 looks to the side during a 2024 US Open Cup Match
Union Omaha #70 looks to the side during a 2024 US Open Cup Match
Union Omaha of USL League One (Div. III) pushed four-time Champs Sporting Kansas City all the way

A Fond Farewell

We have to say goodbye to some of our favorites. It’s always the way, every round, and it’s always hard. Union Omaha – the outstanding third-divisioners from Nebraska – scored first against MLS’ Sporting Kansas City and took them all the way to OT. It took a goal in the dying seconds of extra-time from one Alan Pulido, SKC’s Designated Player (who earns over two million dollars a yea0 to finally kick the life out of the mighty owls of Omaha. That USL League One club’s players – many of them roommates and some living with host families – showed again what the Open Cup is all about. Mike Jeffries, oracle of American Soccer, and head coach of Charlotte Independence, we salute you too – as we do South Georgia Tormenta, who gave high-flying Charleston Battery all they could handle at Patriots Point.

So, that’s where we leave it. Let’s take a breath, gather ourselves and go again – for a Round of 16 between May 21st and 22nd where, as always in our Cup, anything can happen.

See you soon, friends.

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