You can't help but feel a little bad for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup this year. There's a World Cup schedule stacked with thrilling games to contend with, and we all know how hard it is to go from taking in world class soccer on its biggest stage to watching the sometimes-bumbling MLS backups and amateur sides. It can be rough.
So why do we watch? For the love of the American game, for the tradition, for the trophies already in the Sounders' cabinet? Yes. But for me, it's all about the upsets. There's nothing better than watching a group of underdogs come in and strike some fear into a team they have no business beating. It's even better when they actually pull it off.
The same way Australia can take the game to the Netherlands for long stretches, planting seeds of doubt; the same way mighty Spain can be caught flat-footed and overconfident by scrappy, energetic sides -- those same dramas can unfold in these matches played in humble athletic complexes and high school stadiums across the U.S.
It was a crazy week. MLS teams fared much better than the first few to play in this fourth round, but the events didn't lack in excitement and crazy hijinks. Read on!
Rochester Rhinos 1 - DC United 0: It rained a lot. Caskey!
2013 MLS bottom-dwellers DC United were also last year's Open Cup champions. Unfortunately for United, the correlation seems to also work the other way, as the current Eastern Conference leaders bowed out to the Rochester Rhinos in their first game in this year's tourney. After some pretty even early play, a Colin Rolfe goal in the 27th minute gave the USL Pro side the lead, which they took into halftime. The rest of this match was defined by a rather epic storm front that rolled in over Sahlen's Stadium, puddle-izing the FieldTurf, blowing away the advertising boards, and generally creating unwatchable, unplayable soccer. Before the referee had a chance to blow the whistle for the (first) lightning delay in the 61st minute, DC centerback Steven Birnbaum earned himself two yellow cards. Down to ten men and playing against the wind in what looked more like a water polo match, Ben Olsen's team couldn't get it done. There was another, 90 minute (!) delay before this game would mercifully end. Olsen fielded a reserve lineup, playing recently-departed Sounder Alex Caskey in an advanced midfield role before replacing him in the
201st 70th minute. Over at Black and Red united, they don't have many kind words for the coach or the midfielder after the loss.
Full match replay:
Philadelphia Union 3 - Harrisburg City Islanders 1 (AET): Wenger brace in extra time
Philadelphia Union squeaked past their own USL Pro affiliate and into the 5th round of Cup play, but they needed an 89th minute goal from Maurice Edu and a pair of Andrew Wenger strikes in extra time to get there. John Hackworth is out as manager of the Union, replaced by former assistant coach Jim Curtin. Who is he? Well, if he's the type of guy who doesn't like the word "interim" in his title, he might want his team to win more convincingly than they did against the Harrisburg City Islanders. In the 39th minute, Jason Pelletier took advantage of a rare chance for the lower-division squad as a headed shot off a corner kick was spilled by the Union keeper right to the Islander's boot. Subpar play from the home team and some great saves by Islanders keeper Brian Sylvestre kept the Union off the board. Despite all three of Philly's DP's starting the match, the equalizer to force extra time didn't come until the 89th minute. Supersub Sebastien Le Toux hit a good cross that Maurice Edu blasted in from close range. As the game wore on past 90 minutes, the USL Pro side finally slowed to match the Union's "sluggish, slow" pace (Curtin's words), possibly because the Union denied the Islanders the use of their four loanees. Wenger was finally able to provide his teammates some relief by ending his two-month scoring drought.
Full match replay:
Indy Eleven 1 - Columbus Crew 2 (AET): 2 Red cards later, the Crew are moving on
The Columbus Crew had impressively never won a fourth-round game in the US Open Cup, and they looked as though they wanted to give Indy Eleven a chance to keep it that way. The Crew's Bernardo Anor tried to screw up the losing streak in the 4th minute by heading in a Ben Speas corner. But to even things out, Crew forward Adam Bedell went in for a bad challenge and was sent off in the 32nd minute of the match. The man advantage allowed the NASL side to dominate possession in the second half, but it took until Blake Smith's strike in the 62nd to lock things up. The bright yellow guys from Ohio held on to force extra time. Then Daniel Paladini earned a straight red for an incident of elbow-to-head contact, bringing the Crew's crew down to nine (for the fourth time in team history) at the University of Akron. Despite all that, the referee blew for a penalty after Ethan Finlay went down in the box. Jairo Arrieta was forced to break with tradition, converting the penalty and winning his team the right to see what the 5th round is all about. Sometime you just have to "survive and advance."
Full match replay:
FC Dallas 2 - San Antonio Scorpions 0: The Colombian Connection
You might remember a
gentleman person named Eric Hassli. But maybe you weren't aware that the former MLS DP now plays for the NASL's San Antonio Scorpions. Well, despite some concern about the sometimes-awesome striker in Big D Soccer's scouting report, the Frenchman stayed quiet, unable to keep his best chance on frame in the first half. Instead, the Texas showdown turned into a bit of a stalemate, with Chris Seitz making several impressive saves before the break. For his 22nd birthday, Fabian Castillo scored himself a great goal in the 74th minute. After a perfect first touch on a long ball that freed him from his mark, one-half of FCD's Colombian connection nutmegged the Scorpions keeper at the near post. Unsatisfied with conceding at his near post just once, Jeremy Vuolo switched to his left hand side five minutes later and watched as an Andres Escobar shot whistled past. I guess you call that a Colombian connection goal sandwich? Either way, Coach Pareja is pleased. I suggest you watch the highlights below if only to enjoy Castillo and Escobar's hypnotic dance of a goal celebration.
Colorado Rapids 5 - Orlando City SC 2: Rapid revenge. Deshorn Brown hat trick
In 2013, Colorado Rapids made the trip down to Orlando to face this USL Pro side, only to have their Cup run ended before it began. Playing at home Tuesday, it was all about burgundy revenge for the MLS team. Although City scored first, and early, most of the possession and attack came from Colorado's end. Deshorn Brown netted three in the Rapids first ever Open Cup hat trick and the first in the tournament for a Jamaican in the modern era (since 1995). Former Sounder Marc Burch started and played well, delivering the assist to Nick LaBrocca for the journeyman's first of the season. Notable for Colorado was the return of two important players from injury. Edson Buddle and Vicente Sanchez both made substitute appearances in the victory, after being missing in action since May 24 and May 3, respectively. Cruising to a win is always nice, and Pablo Mastroeni is pretty high on his team at the moment. (No one tell him that Orlando City aren't in MLS yet).
Portland Timbers 3 - Orlando City U-23's 0: Portland beats college kids
Perhaps it was memories of this, or nightmares involving this, but the Porter-land Timbers ran out quite a strong lineup against the PDL's Orlando City U-23's. Maximiliano Urruti, Gaston Fernandez, et al. bossed the pitch in what was rightly a dominant performance. On the broadcast, there was a lot of excitement about the return of something called "Captain Jack," which for me just evokes thoughts of various awful liquors that I only drink if absolutely nothing else is available. Maybe someone can clear that up for me. Fernandez had an impressive 25-yard bomb off the underside of the crossbar for the opening goal in the 11th minute. The Timber's second came by way of a dubious penalty called when Urruti went down easily in the box. Referee Juan Guzman bought it, and Fernandez chipped in the PK. In more interesting news, Former University of Washington player Taylor Peay made his first professional competitive appearance and capped it off with his first professional goal! The second-round pick calmly finished a through-ball in the 68th minute past Orlando's keeper, Tomas Gomez. Gomez also minds the nets for Georgetown, and looked very impressive with some huge saves.
Richmond Kickers 2 - New England Revolution 3: It was very hot.
New England also trotted out a strong lineup against their fourth-round opponents, the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers. The Revs, though, ended up scraping by a bit by the end of this one, having built a two-goal lead. In the 8th minute, Stephen McCarthy banged one in from a set piece. New England's game plan was to sit back and possess the ball with some patience, hoping to tire out the chasing team in the 95-degree swelter. The underdogs struck back though in the 23rd after a defensive fail from the Rev's CBs. Tallies from two Revolution rookies, Steve Neumann and Patrick Mullins, also came before the half. Despite late flurries from the Kickers, The MLS side held on to move on to round five (Ding!). Jay Heaps had plenty of praise for his two rookies.
Chicago Fire 2 - Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1: The game that nearly wasn't
Another summer storm, another day of pushing a soccer ball around a waterlogged pitch. This time, Bridgeview, Ill. and Toyota Park were the victims, as heavy rain and lightning prompted a 2-hour delay to the start of the match. After 45 minutes played, the halftime break was extended to another full hour. When the players retook the pitch around 11:30 PM, things skyward still weren't looking good, and the return of lightning in the area a few minutes later meant the end of the game. 4 hours. 48 minutes of soccer. Some questioned why the game wasn't postponed until today, but apparently the rulebook is clear on this one, and US Soccer Match Commissioner Nate Boyden was involved in the decision. Despite the ridiculous conditions, three goals were scored in those 48 minutes. Grant Ward and Mike Magee both struck for the Fire in the first half, and Andrew Marshall grabbed a goal back shortly before the half. In the three minutes of the second half that were played, Magee even managed another shot that rang off the crossbar. Mark this one down as "meh, they probably would have won anyway."
Check out the full "match" below if you really enjoy watching an empty pitch being rained on.
And yes, some supporters stayed through it all:
Full match replay:
Sporting Kansas City 2 - Minnesota United FC 0: Sporks take care of Loons
In what should be a clear pattern to you if you watch early round Open Cup games, the NASL's Minnesota United played nearly toe-to-toe with SKC for the first 60 minutes or so, only to see their chances fade away as the game wore on. The guys who are better and get paid more continued to perform at a high level for those final 30 minutes. Both sides had some close calls in the first half, and the Loons worked hard to make sure they didn't concede before the break. United's keeper, Mitch Hildebrandt, played a significant role. In the 51st, Minnesota's Cristiano Dias flew into a challenge with Dom Dwyer, limbs-a-ganglin'. An elbow to the head dropped Dwyer to the turf, and the referee went to his back pocket. Down to ten men and tiring, MUFC were finally sent behind by a low Soony Saad drive from 25 yards. The followup came a few minutes later through Alex Martinez, and that was that for a Minnesota team with dreams of joining MLS in the coming years.
This week in I Didn't Know You Could Do That: KC came out of the locker room after half time having changed into their sky blue training tops, apparently unsatisfied with the difference between the team's shirts and Minnesota's gray kits during the opening 45.
Seattle Sounders FC 5 - PSA Elite 0: 15-0-0
Full match replay:
Arizona United 1 - LA Galaxy 2: The Zardes Show
In the final match of round 4 (Phew!), It's the same story again. A USL Pro club comes out tough against a mostly reserve and second-choice Galaxy squad, but can't hang for the full 90. Both teams have good looks at goal in the first half, and United even goes into half with the one goal advantage after Matt Kassel's tally. But this time it's Gyasi Zardes who spoils the fun for the underdogs, as he scores twice in two minutes to silence the crowd at Arizona's Peoria Sports Complex. Sounds like your standard Open Cup story, right? Well, actually, not to the Galaxy, who have a habit of nonchalantly bombing out of the open cup due to what i'd call lack of interest? Congratulations LA Galaxy on your first US Open cup win since 2011!
And that's it!
It's on to round five. Three NASL teams remain, as well as one valiant USL Pro side. You'll find the schedule here, fully updated with this round's results. And if you don't already know, thecup.us is a great one-stop shop for in-depth LMUSOC coverage.
Thanks for reading!