Can't Miss Matches of USOC Round 1
With the announcement of Round 1 matchups in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, we asked some of our writers to pick the two matches they have to see and explain their logic. This is the list they came up with! Several other writers are planning to preview matches, so you may see a couple added as we move forward!
Des Moines Menace (USL League Two) vs. Duluth FC (NPSL)
May 8th - 7:30 CT
Cownie Soccer Park, Des Moines, Iowa
The USL League Two Heartland Division champions of 2018, Des Moines Menace, will be facing the NPSL Midwest Regional champions, Duluth FC, in one of the Open Cup’s most exciting first round matches. The Menace ended 2018 with a striking 13-1-0 record, making it to the conference finals before losing to Chicago FC United in a tight 1-0 match. The Menace will be facing Duluth, who recovered from a rough first half of their 2018 season and went on to win the Midwest Regional title, their second trophy in two years of NPSL play.
The two cities are roughly 400 miles apart and neither club has played the other previously, but both will hope to move on to the second round where they may be able to represent the Midwest in a match against a professional club, as Duluth did in 2018 against Saint Louis FC.
Both teams will have a match on the 11th, three days after their meeting, but only Duluth will have played a league match prior to the game. This one being on the 5th against the Sioux Falls Thunder. Des Moines’ match following the USOC will be against the Green Bay Voyageurs and will be an away match, while Duluth’s will be a home match. Whether this will hurt or help Duluth, only time will tell.
Milwaukee Bavarian SC (UPSL) vs. Forward Madison FC (USL League One)
May 7th - 7:30 CT
Uihlein Soccer park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Bavarians, who ended 2018 as champions of their division, the UPSL as a whole, and with their fifth USASA National Amateur Cup title, will be facing one of the most popular new clubs in North America, Forward Madison FC. Madison are members of the new USL League One, one of two clubs in the league based in, the other being Lansing Ignite. Milwaukee ended their dominant UPSL 2018 season with a 10-0-0 record, undefeated and with a goal differential of +40.
The matchup isn’t just a showdown between two Midwest clubs, it’s a chance to spark the historic Milwaukee-Madison rivalry in the world of soccer. Both cities, two of the main cores of Wisconsin, have a long history of rivalries in every department, from sports to beer and even music. The matchup will be a big chance for soccer to rejoin the ranks of that rivalry. The match, held in Milwaukee, will be one to watch for all Wisconsin sports fans.
While Forward Madison will certainly have the advantages of being a professional side, they will need to be careful with Milwaukee, who have a history of running a strong operation that can compete with the best throughout the amateur scene. While the first round is often, and still is, a competition amongst amateur sides to see who’s the best, the match in Wisconsin will instead show us whether one of the most historied clubs in amateur history can beat a brand new professional brand.
Orange County FC (NPSL) vs. FC Golden State Force (USL League Two)
May 7th - 7:30 PT
Orange County Great Park – Championship Soccer Stadium; Irvine, Calif.
In round one of the US Open Cup you get to see two of the power houses in SoCal soccer. Orange County FC, led by head coach Paul Caligiuri, is one of the stronger teams in the NPSL. Not only can this team do it during the season, they are also a dominant playoff side. In the 2018 NPSL regional semifinals, OCFC dispatched of FC Golden State, the NPSL version of the Force, with a scoreline of 4-2.
While these clubs do have this history, FCGS Force have proven to be a strong amatuer side when it comes to the Open Cup. Led by Allisson Faramilio, the 2018 non-MLS player of the tournament, FCGS Force stomped all the way to the fourth round of the cup and disposing of multiple teams in the USL. Eventually the Force would lose to Los Angeles Galaxy 3-1.
Expect the winner of this match to make its way through multiple rounds of the tournament. Both teams have recorded wins in previous tournaments, both teams have a great coaching staff and loads of talent. This match is going to one for the history books.
Miami FC (NPSL) vs. Florida Soccer Soldiers (UPSL)
May 8th - 7 ET
Buccaneer Field (Barry Univ.); Miami Shores, Fla.
Another must watch match in the first round of the Open Cup. Miami FC are 2018 NPSL champions and have been strengthening its roster in anticipation for the NPSL Founders Cup, including ex-New York Red Bull winger Lloyd Sam. Miami FC are poised to replicate its historical run in 2017, where the club beat Orlando City SC and Atlanta United before losing in the quarter-finals to FC Cincinnati.
Standing in the way of Miami FC is first time participant the Florida Soccer Soldiers. The Soccer Soldiers took the grassroot audience by storm when it made it all the way to the 2018 Spring UPSL semi-finals, where they lost to the eventual champions Milwaukee Bavarians SC. During the 2018 seasons FSS had an overall record of 20-0-1, scoring 102 goals and only allowing 13. Currently, in 2019, the Florida Soccer Soldiers are undefeated.
Many fans of grassroot soccer will be watching this with an eye on NPSL vs. UPSL, but this match should really be labeled as a battle between two massive Florida clubs. Both clubs have shown success in their respective leagues and hopefully this match can establish a rivalry down in the Southeast that make fans clamor for a unified pyramid.
Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (NPSL) vs. FC Denver (Colo.)
May 8th - 7:30 CT
Grande Communications Stadium; Midland, Texas
It’s hard to not cheer for a club you’ve seen play live, even if they eliminated your hometown squad.
FC Denver plays in the Colorado Premier League, an extremely competitive regional league, but isn’t typically listed when regional leagues are discussed (certainly not in the BSSL or MMSL conversation). What FC Denver brings to the field, however, is certainly class. FC Denver qualified for last year’s competition and won their first match 4-2 against Azteca FC. The club lost in the second round, but only after an impressive match against a USL side, losing 3-2. That sort of grit, to put up 2 against a pro side, is why its hard not to count out this plucky club from Denver.
The match against Southwest FC (El Paso) in the final qualifier was a shocking instant classic type of match. After falling behind 3-0, the club battled back - scoring a penalty just before half and then coming out and dominating the second half, grabbing two more. In extra time, FCD completed the comeback, winning 4-3 in an improbable win. This is a club that can take a punch and not give up, instead putting one back in your jaw. Cesar Castillo, the player who scored the winner against Southwest FC, leads the attack for FC Denver and scored two goals in last year’s first round match. He steps up in big moments.
Midland-Odessa Sockers FC is in the same predicament that the rest of the NPSL sides are in. With the regular season not even started yet, the club is still without a lineup for this match. Last year the Sockers won their first round match, before being beat in the second by San Antonio FC 4-0. In their NPSL play, they were knocked out in their only playoff match. So their track record doesn’t bode well for this first round matchup with FC Denver.
Midland-Odessa is football country - the other kind - it’s the home of Friday Night Lights’ Permian Panthers. With the boom in oil and natural gas, it’s a tough place to keep a club together with the amount of transient families moving in and out for jobs. But the Sockers continue to thrive in the West Texas town and, while its hard to know what kind of team they will field at this point, its expected that its team will be as tough and ready to roll as the rest of their community.
Lansing Ignite FC (USL League One) vs. AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL)
May 8th - 7 ET
Cooley Law School Stadium; Lansing, Mich.
Much like the other match in this preview, there’s a gap of who has their team together already, playing matches and getting into match shape before their match. AFC Ann Arbor is still figuring out who is returning, who is joining, and how those players will deploy. There’s also the issue of fitness, which will of course play a role in any match that’s played. Coach Eric Rudland isn’t blind to this fact. “We’re a long ways away from being prepared for our open cup match, as were still waiting most of our players to arrive into preseason. At the moment we’re just trying to see what players will be available & how many sessions we will have with the group to implement our match strategies.“
AFC Ann Arbor has had a solid run in the NPSL playoffs last year, the club won their conference and had a solid post season run, making it to the Regional Finals before falling to Duluth on penalties. However, in the Open Cup, that winning tradition hasn’t been replicated. In the last two years, AFC Ann Arbor has qualified for the competition and then lost in the first round both times. In 2017, that was against the PDL’s Michigan Bucks 1-0 (the Bucks would go on to win their second round match before losing in round 3). In 2018, it was against the Ocean City Nor’easters 3-0 (Ocean City would also exit in the third round). The issue for AFC Ann Arbor (and most other NPSL sides) is the schedule is a massive disadvantage. It’s comparable to why MLS clubs struggle in Champions League. Unlike their Liga MX counterparts, MLS sides are at the tail end of their offseason and completely unfit for competitive play. Imagine that issue compounded by not being 100% sure what players you’ll have returning. Not an easy situation to cope with.
For Lansing Ignite FC, the story is the opposite. The club is already in the middle of their USL League 1 schedule, already two matches in to the regular season. In fact, by the time the two clubs meet in the Open Cup, Lansing will have already played 11 matches (either friendlies or regular season matches). That’s plenty of time to have the team clicking on all cylinders.
So far this season, it’s been mixed results for Ignite. The club went 3-1 in preseason matches, their only loss coming against Pittsburgh River Hounds. Ignite won their first regular season match, 3-2 against Richmond, but dropped their second match against Greenville Triumph 2-1. The loss was not without consolation with goal keeper Mike Kirk had 8 saves on the evening and one of those was nominated for the USL League One Save of the Week. Kirk’s presence in the net for the club has been exemplary in this young season. On the attack side, midfielder Xavier Gomez has been central to their scoring success so far. The former MLS Superdraft product was the club’s first signing and has shone in the first two matches, notching an assist and a goal in Lansing’s only win of the regular season.
We can’t ignore the history of soccer in Lansing and the leagues involved. For many clubs in the NPSL, USL League One is seen as a poacher, sweeping into towns with established NPSL clubs and team culture (see Chattanooga) and trying to gobble up the talent and fan base. In Lansing, it was Lansing United’s own owner, Jeremy Sampson, who brought the USL into town. After competing in the NPSL for several years, Sampson closed up shop and hopped ship, becoming the GM of the new USL League One Ignite. In an interview with Lansing State Journal, Sampson was asked about Lansing United, “the Lansing United brand is obviously very important to me, it’s what I created. But it’s legacy, even though it’s not named, will live on because of my involvement.” Doesn’t seem too broke up about it.
There has to some diehards in the NPSL who would love nothing more than see AFC Ann Arbor beat Lansing Ignite as payback for the Sampson triggered collapse of Lansing United. The classiness of AFC Ann Arbor will no doubt limit their admittance of the feeling. With their history of first round exits in tow, maybe this motivation will be enough to drive them to success.
FC Baltimore (NPSL) vs. West Chester Predators (Pa.)
May 7th - 7 ET
As the U.S. Open Cup proper gets underway, I’m keeping my eye on a couple of mid-Atlantic matches. First off, West Chester United SC travels to meet FC Baltimore Christos. West Chester’s NPSL squad failed to qualify for this year’s cup by the league’s and USSF’s complicated process, but the organization’s United Soccer League of Pennsylvania club entered local qualifying after missing out on their own automatic bid when they lost to Bavarian SC in the National Amateur Cup final. West Chester qualified out of the Northeast Region by winning four away matches with a relatively easy 3-0 win against Safira FC in the Fourth Round qualifier. This is their second time in the Cup after qualifying in 2016.
FC Baltimore Christos is a second-year club that received an automatic First Round bid by virtue of being the highest ranked club from last season’s NPSL Mid-Atlantic Conference. Originally called FC Baltimore 1729, the club rebranded itself after launching a formal partnership with Christos FC in the off-season. The partnership is expected to expand FC Baltimore’s player base and provide access to Christos FC’s coaching and training resources. Soon after the announcement, Christos FC’s head coach, Larry Sancomb, was named head coach of FC Baltimore Christos.
FC Baltimore’s first league match of the season will be less than a handful of days before the Cup match at Homewood Field. At the point, West Chester will have almost finished with their USLP season in addition to the USOC qualifiers they have already played. I’m interested to see how much competitive distance, if any, there is between an experienced regional amateur club and, on paper, a higher-level NPSL club which is importing that same experience via a partnership.
Richmond Kickers (USL League One) vs. Virginia United (Va.)
May 7th - 7 ET
The other match I’m itching to see is Richmond Kickers hosting VA United at City Stadium. The latter plays in the Woodbridge Soccer League and is the first club to have ever qualified for the U.S. Open Cup from the Asociacion Nacional Fútbol en USA (ANFEEU), a new USSF member organization. VA United qualified out of the Mid-Atlantic Region by defeating Christos FC and a red-hot World Class Premier Elite FC in succession. In the final qualifier, VA United equalized 2-2 in the waning moments of the second half of extra time on a penalty kick rebound goal by former U-20 El Salvador World Cup member, Bernardo Majano. The game went to penalties and VA United punched their ticket to the First Round by winning 5-4 in the shootout.
Their opponents, the Richmond Kickers, are in a period of transition. The last amateur club to win the U.S. Cup Open in 1995, the Kickers are now members of the United Soccer League League One, the new Division III pro league. The club struggled in their prior two seasons after the old USL Pro (now the USL Championship) moved from Division III to Division II and decided to drop back down when League One was formed. In addition, following the 2018 season, Richmond was replaced as D.C. United’s affiliate by the expansion USLC club, Loudoun United FC, which is fully owned-and-operated by D.C. United. Finally, in December, the Richmond Kickers Youth Soccer Club sold a majority stake in the 26-year-old organization to a new ownership group.
On the pitch, Richmond Kickers’ veterans, Braeden Troyer and Conor Shanosky, continue to anchor the defense but the club has had a near-complete player turnover since last season. The roster is now made up of younger players with only a couple of years of pro experience but a number, including striker, Joe Gallardo, do have youth USMNT experience. VA United itself isn’t without talent. Included among its roster are a handful of former D.C. United Academy players, including Denis and Andy Najar, a MLS SuperDraftee in Juan Pablo Saavedra and a former U-17 and U-20 USMNT player, Eber Martinez.
If I had to pick one, VA United would be my choice for this year’s bracket buster. But, I’m also hoping that the Kickers return to glory. Their new ownership group is led by Chairman Rob Ukrop. Not only was he an original Kicker, he was a member of the team that won the “double” in 1995 including being named MVP of the final. This isn’t a matter of head versus heart. In this case, it’s heart versus heart!
Prediction: 2-2 with Richmond winning on penalties 6-5.
Villages SC (USL League Two) vs Lakeland Tropics (USL League Two)
May 7th - 7 ET
With the US Open Cup first round matchups announced, I am looking forward to the Villages SC vs Lakeland Tropics match. Both clubs play in the USL League 2 (formerly the Premier Development League) and are each other’s biggest rivals. However, this will be the first time they face each other in the Open Cup. Last season, both clubs finished 9W-2L-3D, with the Villages SC advancing to the Southern Conference Championship on goal difference (+23 to +16). This year, Lakeland will look to bounce The Buffalos from the competition before their regular season even starts. I admit that while I’m excited for this matchup, I also don’t know much about either club but I’m hoping I can change that this year. Even though I reached out to both clubs for comment on their first round matchup, neither has replied.
I will make a strong prediction for this and pick Lakeland Tropics to advance to the next round. I am also hoping to be at the game to provide a more in depth review, so if you plan on being there, let’s chat.
CAL FC (UPSL) vs. FC Mulhouse Portland (NPSL)
May 7th - 7:30 PT
With their win over Santa Ana Winds FC, CAL FC have officially qualified for the US Open Cup. They will square off against NPSL side, FC Mulhouse Portland on May 7th, 7:30 pm at Calabasas High School. For them, this year’s campaign through the qualifiers was dramatic, marked by hurdling significant lower league opponents like San Nicolas, Outbreak FC, and an exciting two-legged affair against Cal United FC II. I asked CAL FC’s head coach Keith Costigan if CAL FC was ready for an NPSL side—if it even mattered who they were playing next. “It’s difficult, at this level, to know the opposition well. Anybody at this level is going to be tough—Cal United was pro-level and were tough. We’ve been though a lot and we know what our goals are; to play an attractive style, to work hard, and focus on us.”
Coach Costigan has been with the club for about a year and last fall guided CAL FC to the top of the table in their 2018 Fall UPSL Pro-Premier SoCal North Division at the first time of asking. The club may be new to the UPSL, but have been around the block a few times; founded in 2006, CAL FC began play in Southern California’s La Gran Liga and dominated the local competition. By 2012, they had earned themselves their first berth into the US Open Cup. A feat they’ve followed up with entries into the Cup in 2014, 15, 16, and 2019’s field. It was that 2012 Cup run, however, which made an indelible mark in the organization’s history. CAL FC made a deep run in the cup, including an upset over, then MLS new kids, Portland Timbers.
“Eric (Wynalda) had asked me to help with the club back then. I didn’t have time to help coach but remember recruiting some of those players,” Current boss Costigan recalls. I asked him if that run has stuck with the organization? “Yes. History moves on and players move on but the club carries that badge with them. Especially when we talk to new players and we say we want to get into the cup and do damage—we’ve shown we can.” Which led me to wonder, what if history repeats itself; if you do get into another deep Cup run, what becomes your priority—the league or the Cup? “Actually, I just discussed that with Michael (Friedman, owner) and we know how financially difficult it can be for a club at this level. But you get into it, and maybe the focus becomes the Cup. We have a deep squad and know that all of the players can contribute, so we focus on the next match, league or cup—but in the back of the head, is the dream.”
Keith Costigan, former USL-era Portland Timber is the current Seattle Sounders television play-by-play voice for regional broadcasts and made it clear he is a part of the Seattle Sounders family. FC Mulhouse Portland may be bringing players who had been associated with the Portland Timbers, whether with the Timbers Academy, U23s, or even current USL side T2. I asked if a part of him was a little excited to match up against a team from the Rose City, even if they are wearing blue and white instead? “Of course, as a member of the Sounders family, and as the coach of this club, I’d love to knock-out a team from Portland. Who knows, I may even know a couple of their players, but I’m representing my club here.
CAL FC, again, are sitting pretty at the top of their Spring table, with 15 points from their first 5 matches and an impressive +18 goal differential. They’re blasting competition away, at will, and have four league fixtures listed before they even get to taking on the NPSL club from Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, FC Mulhouse Portland, of the NPSL Northwest Division, have not even begun their 2019 season yet. The boys from the Rose City, finished second in their table last year, but went on a fantastic playoff run, which ended in heartbreaking fashion in the league semi-finals. I mentioned to FCMP head coach Sergio Medel, that CAL FC looks like a well-oiled machine and asked what they’ve been up to and if they had any matches lined-up to prepare the Portland team for their trip to Southern California. “FCMP took a nice break, we wanted to enjoy the successful end of our 2018 season. Losing the national semifinal could be a failure to some but for us, we see it as we were the top 4 of the 2108 NPSL season of 97 teams, not bad, I think.” He said, “We just started getting together; the good thing about our local players is that they are constantly active and playing the highest level possible in the NW. We had arranged some friendlies with high level local teams as IPS, who had a run-out for the Cup as well, two other teams are confirming dates and places.”
FCMP are simultaneously preparing for their season as well as for the first round in the Open Cup. They’ve managed to hold onto some of their very tidy players from last year, like former Bournemouth and Southampton academy player Ryan Middleton and former Portland Timber and University of Portland Pilot Steven Evans. Though, every year is an opportunity to add firepower and I asked if we could expect any new faces. “Fortunately, we have some very disciplined players, they are all coachable and trust the FCMP staff… We have some new players that we are about to sign, very talented, such as Alcides “Paco” Thomas, Jesus “Chuy” Patino, and Jose “Chato” Perez.” Coach Medel continued, “we also added Jordan Baeza on defense and a couple more, pending an agreement.”
They open their NPSL season on May 18th; the first round of the Cup is on May 7th and the second round is set for the 14th of May. Potentially, FCMP will get two rounds of cup fixtures out of the way before even having to worry about the league. I wondered if they had the roster to compete in both competitions if FCMP were to win those opening salvos… and of course, which competition they prioritize. “We will have a big enough roster to compete in both. Our intentions are to go as far as we can in both, as they are both very important. US Open Cup has a bit of a sweet taste; we believe it is the dessert from last year’s success. But we need to take it very seriously and why not try our best to play an MLS team at some point?” To that point, I asked if by the third or fourth rounds, and they drew the Timbers or Sounders, would he prefer to host that match or take his squad away for that once-in-a-lifetime experience? I wondered if he knew if they get a cut from the gates? Coach Medel left me with this, “we aren’t sure how it would play out. I hope we get a cut, somehow, we do need it. But most of all we do this because we love to compete; we love to work together; we love this game. The experiences and friendships that you build through futbol are priceless.
Academica SC (NPSL) vs. El Farolito (NPSL)
May 7th - 7:30 PT
Last year’s NPSL Western Conference Best XI Coach, Sergio Sousa, has successfully led his team through the US Open Cup qualifiers with a breath-taking home win over amateur side IPS FC. The visitors from Portland twice had the lead as the clock looked to wind-down on Academica, and twice Academica came from the death to snatch a goal. Culminating in a wild pair of extra time periods, where both sides were reduced to 9 men each. In the first qualifier, they defeated Davis Legacy 4-1 at home, then beat Contra Costa FC 3-2 on their home pitch. Academica was away to Oakland Stompers in the third qualifying round, and served a 1-0 shutout. They haven’t lost a qualifier, but 3 of the four have been at home, and the luck of the draw was once again on their side, as they will host NPSL Golden Gate Division foe, El Farolito at the Academica Field in Turlock, California on May 7th at 7:30 pm.
Founded in 1972, Academic SC are no spring chicken to soccer competitions in Northern California but have played El Farolito just a couple times since the two joined the same league. Academica finished fifth in the division last year, having lost to El Faro in the opener and then fighting to a scoreless draw later in the season. Currently 4th in the table, Academica sit two places ahead of El Farolito just four weeks into this season. Last season for El Faro, however, was a totally different story—it was their first in the league and they won their division outright with a +20 goal difference and despite not getting past the regional semifinals, they earned their way into the 2019 US Open Cup’s first round without having to go through qualifiers. El Farolito, no newcomer to Northern California’s soccer scene themselves, were founded in 1985 and have a trophy case chock full of glory. They’ll be looking forward to this one.
As a preview of the US Open Cup fixture, the two NPSL Golden Gate competitors will square off in a league match this Saturday, April 13th, at historic Boxer Stadium in San Francisco. Academica will have just one more league match after that, to warm up for their USOC round one battle; El Farolito will get two more league games in before their showdown away to Academica. The two seem evenly matched and the round one game seems like one to look forward to.