Preview: 4th Round of Qualifying for the US Open Cup

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This weekend will see the final round of qualifiers for the 2019 US Open Cup. Six matches will be played over two days between clubs eager to prove they belong in the in the national competition. The histories of these clubs vary as much as the level of experiences of the players. It’s the best aspects of the competition on display and will certainly yield matches worth watching. We already have one club advanced of this group, as Florida Soccer Soldiers earned entry when their opponent was disqualified. Every match of the 4th round is here, dissected by the writers of Protagonist Soccer. Enjoy!


Saturday April 6 Matches

WEST CHESTER UNITED VS SAFIRA FC

Dilboy Stadium, in Somerville, Mass., will hold one of the many great U.S. Open Cup qualifiers coming our way on April 6th. That match will be between Safira FC, which play in the UPSL and locally, against West Chester United, who play in the NPSL and locally.

Safira FC finished top of the UPSL’s Patriot Division by three points in 2018 but lost immediately in the playoffs to Lincoln Club Futebol. Their 9-2-1 league record and 32-9 goals scored and allowed rate reflect a club that knows not just how to win matches, they know how to win divisions.West Chester also had a strong 2018, reaching the conference final for the Keystone Conference, which has a playoff tournament to decide who moves on to the regional tournament. They lost said final in a penalty shootout to Motown, who would go on to reach the NPSL National Final. Again, their 7-0-3 league record and 29-9 goal scored and allowed rate in 2018 reflect a club with quality on the pitch.

The match between West Chester and Safira will be a meeting of different regions and leagues, but both clubs do have a shared strong record in their leagues. West Chester is a storied club, founded in1976, but did not join the NPSL until 2017. Both clubs are also well-known for their youth programs.

- Dominic Jose Bisogno

FC MARITSA VS NTX RAYADOS

The Rayados run of qualifying for the 2019 tournament began with an insane match against a local rival, Dallas Elite FC that went to 8 rounds of penalties to get a winner. Their second qualifier was a more conventional 2-0 win over Leon FC. Apparently a taste for drama returned in the 3rd qualifier against the GCPL’s Motagua. After finishing regular time 1-1, the two clubs went through a series of PKs that went so long the player that began the penalties with a miss ended the series with a match winner. So with those wins in their back pocket, the Rayados head into this final qualifier with a tremendous amount of experience on the roster. However, the side has multiple injuries to deal with that will shake up their roster deployment for the match. Right back Cedric Nickerson is in a boot for the next month and TJ Nelson injured himself playing for indoor soccer club Dallas Sidekicks. Nelson will actually be having surgery on Friday, the day before the match. Japanese prospect Toi Yamaoka is also out. That’s three starters for the Rayados who will be out for this match - the most important match in their qualifying run.

When asked about this match, the club responded - “The only thing we know about Marista [sic] FC is that they are a great team and they are in this round for a reason. We cannot take any team lightly and we play to give a great match as they travel down here to play us in Dallas.”

Maritsa FC’s path to this match had its share of impressive games. After getting a first round bye, their second round opener against FC Minnesota was a back and forth affair that wasn’t settled until a 90th minute goal that put Marista through 4-3. Their third qualifying match was against Livonia City on a chilly night in Michigan. Unlike the goal fest of the first round, this match ended 0-0 and headed into PKs. That lasted 7 rounds until Rob Acosta ended it with a decisive pen.

This matchup is really a clash of history vs inexperience. NTX Rayados have qualified for eight straight Open Cup competitions while Maritsa is trying to qualify for their first. But with Rayados piling up the injuries, this might be a match primed for an unlikely upset. I can’t end a preview of a match without a prediction, so I’ll take NTX Rayados over Maritsa 2-1.

- Dan Vaughn

FC DENVER VS SOUTHWEST FC

This Fourth Qualifying Round is uncharted territory for amateur teams looking for a berth into the First Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Thus, the quality is high and looking at the roads that Southwest FC of El Paso, TX and FC Denver have taken to reach this point make that quality apparent.

Southwest FC of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) Southwest Conference come into this match having relied on fast starts to reach this point of the competition. Both in the Second Round game against 2018 UPSL National Finalists Sporting AZ and the Third Round match against 2018 UPSL National Fall Semifinalists San Juan FC of Utah, the Wolves pressed extremely well and the early pressure lead to goals in both cases. Manager Endy Gonzalez pointed out that he approaches each match differently, but he may rely on what has served them well to this point. Cesar Sosa Jr, the son of the last man to score for an El Paso team in the USOC (Cesar Sosa Sr./El Paso Patriots) is a constant threat on the front line and will have FC Denver’s attention. Endy will certainly look to his captain and man of the match from the 3-0 victory over San Juan, David Lopez, to provide the spark and insure the team reaches the level required to make SWFC the first team from El Paso to qualify for the USOC in the modern era.

FC Denver have fought a battle for Colorado up to this point, having eliminated three other Centennial State teams en route to the Fourth Round. They’ve left Indios Denver FC, Harpos FC, and GAM United FC in their wake, with the 4-1 thrashing of GAM being their standout performance of this run. They too relied on early pressure but were much more focused on creating dangerous chances from possessing the ball as much as possible. Their crossing can be extremely dangerous and SWFC’s fullbacks will need to be able to stop the service from out wide. Cesar Castillo, Alex Bernhardt, and Fernando Magallenes make up FC Denver’s potent attacking line and will constantly rotate positions to keep defenses on their toes. FC Denver reached the USOC 2nd Round last year before losing to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks of the USL.

Both teams have proven their quality up to this point of the tournament. The tournament proper has not begun yet, but this certainly feels like a proper cup tie. There is plenty on the line and both clubs will be giving their all to grab the spot that they claim is rightfully there’s this Saturday.

- Phil Baki

IPS VS ACADEMICA SC

Last Autumn, amateur side International Portland Select, knocked off UPSL clubs Nevada Coyotes and JASA RWC in successive matches of the USOC qualification rounds. They had lucked-out to draw both games at home, where they were able to neatly fit them in between fall season fixtures. Now, Head Coach Harvey Hurst has to take his luck, but mostly well-organized squad, on the road to face an even higher standard in NPSL Golden Gate Conference side, Academica SC.

Currently 8th in the NPSL Power Rankings, Academica SC are coming into the USOC match after a four goal performance away to conference foes East Bay FC Stompers. As a matter of fact, both of Academica’s wins this season have come on the road, with goals pouring in from Edwin Rodriguez, Marco Torralva, Gerrardo Cazares, Fermin Chaidez and 2018’s Conference, Regional, and National Best XI forward Cody Golbad. Unfortunately, Academica have neither won, or even scored in their first two home matches at their own Academica Fields. Founded in 1972, Academica SC have a long history of competing for titles in Northern California’s soccer scene. 2018 was their first season in the National Premier Soccer League, finishing fifth and missing the playoffs, however, several players and even Head Coach Sergio Sousa, earned all sorts of league commendations. In the fall, however, Academica stepped up their game and blew out Davis Legacy in the first round of the USOC qualifiers; hosted Contra Costa FC and won 3-2; travelled to Oakland’s Raimondi Park and defeated the Stompers 1-0. For them, hosting the last play-in to the US Open Cup proper, has been well-earned.

IPS FC / Marathon Taverna travel to Turlock, California as winners of the OPSL’s 2018 Fall Season title and haven’t lost a match for six months. While the Oregon Premier Soccer League has unexpectedly suspended the 2019 Spring Season, IPS FC have re-joined the Greater Portland Soccer District, a league which the club had been a part of back in the late 1980s and into the 1990s before joining OPSL. Portland are currently on 9 points from their first three matches into the GPSD season with 12 goals coming from usual suspects; Nate Pogue, Paco Thomas, Pablo Salinas, and Prince Saydee. The boys-in-red from Portland, Oregon head down to Turlock, California to play Academica SC at Academica Field on Saturday, April 6th – with a 7:00 pm kickoff. It will be streamed via www.pamamedia.com, either on their website or through their Youtube channel.

- Joshua Duder


Sunday April 7 Matches

WORLD CLASS PREMIER ELITE FC VS VIRGINIA UNITED

U.S. Open qualifying for the Mid-Atlantic Region comes down to two teams: VA United and World Class Premier Elite FC. VA United hails from Woodbridge, Va. and plays in the Woodbridge Soccer League which is affiliated with Asociacion Nacional Fútbol en USA. VA United took out league rival Centro America FC 2-1 in the first qualifying round in a physical match that saw the refs hand out seven yellows. The club then blanked Maryland Major Soccer League’s Super Delegates Football Club 2-0 in the second qualifying round. The next qualifying match was a huge one for VA United as they were able to upset Cup veterans, Christos FC, 2-1. Mauricio Martinez Campos scored the brace that put VA United through.

VA United has notched all three impressive qualifying wins at Howison Homestead Soccer Complex and gets one more at home. But, that might not be much of an advantage against their opponents this time around.

Based in Montgomery County, Md., World Class Premier Elite FC, a new member of the United Premier Soccer League beginning in the current 2019 Spring season, is also a member of the Maryland Major Soccer League winning the 2018 Spring season championship. The club plays its UPSL matches at Blair High School Stadium in Silver Spring, Md. but have been road warriors during qualifying winning all three away from home.

With a potent offense led by co-captains, Sesay and Daniel Ankrah, World Class Premier Elite defeated MMSL rival, Izee Auto FC, 4-2 in Columbia, Md. then crushed Cville Alliance FC Reserves 6-0 at Charlottesville, Va. in the second qualifying round. Their most impressive victory may have been the next one where they traveled to far upstate New York and defeated Rochester Lancers 2 3-1 in snowy, bitter conditions.

It is trite to say, but at this level talent usually wins out. And, World Class Premier Elite has talent. In combination with that also comes vital on-the-pitch U.S. Open Cup experience. Levi Houapeu and Elton Joe were part of Christos FC's multiple cup runs. In addition, the club has a stout defense, anchored in the center by Oumar Ballo and Evan Raimist in goal. In UPSL league play, the club has started the season with four away wins including a current streak of three clean sheets. Across two competitions, that’s seven wins in a row and a gaudy +22 goal differential.

But, you can not overlook the fact that VA United took down Christos FC last round. Started by a bunch of friends who grew up playing soccer together in Woodbridge, VA United decided to take the leap into the U.S. Open Cup. They are doing something right and their cup success has given them the motivation and exposure to raise the club's ambitions. During their cup run, the club created a board, brought in a new head coach, and began operating in a manner more like a semi-professional club. The team has been training hard for this match and their system is working. But is their commitment enough to give them the edge necessary to stop another attack-minded powerhouse?

- Dan Creel

CAL FC VS SANTA ANA WINDS FC

Cal Football Club

Cal FC can be categorized as one of the most dominant squads in amatuer soccer and Open Cup qualification. The club finished its fall 2018 UPSL season undefeated and has started its spring 2019 season with the same passion for dominance. So far, Cal FC is perfect through five games this season, scoring 22 goals and only allowing 7. “We have 7 new players on the team.  All are excellent players with professional experience,” said owner/ GM Michael Friedman about the clubs updated player pool for the 2019 season. He added “ Head coach Keith [Costigan] is doing a great job shaping the team.”

Open Cup success is a target for Cal FC and the club has already put together a few big results during qualification, including a PK shootout victory of fall 2018 UPSL champions, Cal United Strikers FC II. Of course Cal FC has its historic US Open Cup run in 2012, but will be looking to go even farther in 2019. “The USOC is the highest level tournament in the USA,” said Friedman, he added “to be in the tournament again would satisfy one of our stated goals.”

Santa Ana Winds FC

The club looking to spoil Cal FC’s Open Cup goals is fellow UPSL Pro Premier rival, Santa Ana Winds FC. The Winds typically have success within the UPSL, but have managed to mixed results during the first five matches of the 2019 spring season. Currently the club has three wins and two losses in the first five matches, scoring 16 goals and allowing 11. “Coach José López has been trying new players in recent league matches and this reflects in the clubs recent form, but recent results are not an indicator of our team’s match readiness come April 6,” said communication and social media manager Omar Ávalos.

On the route to the fourth round, the Winds have blown past LA Wolves FC, Lionside FC and Buena Park FC with a collective scoreline of 12-2, including two clean sheets in the first two rounds. While Santa Ana have proven to play spoiler in the past, the club will have its biggest test ahead of them on April 6th. A test that no other team has passed since Cal FC’s rebirth last season.

- Steven Ramirez

FLORIDA SOCCER SOLDIERS

With the final round of the 2019 US Open Cup qualifying forthcoming, it turns out that the club with the easiest route in to the tournament proper is the Florida Soccer Soldiers of the UPSL Southeast Conference. It was an unfortunate turn of events for their opponents, America Soccer Club, as it was confirmed by the UPSL they were no longer financial able to maintain their active club status. I reached out for a comment from America SC, but have not received any comment other than what has previously been said about the club.

However, things bode well for the Florida Soccer Soldiers. Not only is this their first time advancing in to the Open Cup, they currently sit in second place in their division, behind Red Force FC by three points. If I had to give an opinion on the Soccer Soldiers, I would have to say that, with the amount of talent on their roster, they could surprise one or two teams during their journey in the tournament. At the same time, though, being a semi-professional club could result in things not falling in their favor and thus could limit them to a one and done type of run in the Open Cup.

The Florida Soccer Soldiers have yet to comment on the situation surrounding the forfeited match against America SC thus far, but I hope to have a statement from them in the coming days.

I look forward to seeing who the Soccer Soldiers are pitted against in the first round of the Open Cup and will actively be rooting for them during their run.

- Shawn Laird