Can't Miss Matches of Round 2 of the USOC
Tomorrow will see round two of the 2019 US Open Cup. Most of these clubs saw action in round one, so we already have some cinderella stories in motion. The UPSL’s Florida Soccer Soldiers, who qualified for the tournament via a fourth round withdrawal, won their round one match against a NPSL reigning champion, will see if they can continue their run. Of course, there’s already a cinderella in the tournament from previous years, plucky North Texas Rayados. This is when we sort the pretenders from the competitors, so let’s look at our matches to watch!
West Chester United SC at Birmingham Legion FC
It took two minutes for West Chester United to take the lead in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup on a goal by Troy Amspacher, assisted by Andreas Bartosinski. West Chester United knocked out FC Baltimore Christos of the NPSL after having to resort to penalty kicks as extra time ended with both teams having scored one goal. West Chester netted five penalty kicks to Baltimore's four to take the win. They were one of the four teams from the United States Adult Soccer Association to make it through to the second round of the U.S. Open Cup last week.
The weekend saw West Chester lose to Atlantic City FC in an NPSL league match, 4-1. Amspacher did not play and Bartosinski played only 58 minutes. According to the match report, a few other players saw a change in playing time since the match against FC Baltimore Christos in the first round. The ones that did not play this past weekend were Charles Wilson and J.P. Nolan. Michael Gonzalez only played 56 minutes and Bartosinski played 58 minutes. Not playing the league match this weekend should help them feel more rested heading into their competition with the USL Championship side Birmingham Legion.
Birmingham also played Saturday in a league match against Louisville City FC. Their loss was tough as they were out key players including their starting goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel, who will remain out at least another week with a high ankle sprain. Birmingham has been playing every week for a few months now and are feeling pretty banged up. After nine matches played, they are sitting in position 12 out of 18 in the USL Championship Eastern Conference table.
Wilson will play anywhere on the field that he is asked, but for this match, expect him to be playing toward the front and pushing forward as he leads the attack for West Chester. Birmingham is not a very explosive team moving forward, averaging one goal a game in the USL Championship in their first year in the league and as a professional team. Expect to see any attack come from either forward Prosper Kasim or midfielder Daniel Johnson, as the team leaders in chances created. Even with the struggles Birmingham has had so far, West Chester will be the underdog as an amateur side. They have won five straight road games through qualification and the first round and will fight to continue that streak.
Charlotte Independence vs. Florida Soccer Soldiers
One of the first three matches to kick off in the second round is my pick to be one of the best matches of the whole round. The UPSL’s Florida Soccer Soldiers head to Matthews, North Carolina to face the USL Championship’s Charlotte Independence.
The Florida Soccer Soldiers pulled off what is considered an incredible upset with a win over NPSL power and reigning NPSL Champion, Miami FC. A sixth minute goal from Miami’s Ariel Martinez put the favorites up 1-0 before William Stamatis equalized immediately after the half in the 46th minute. In the 70th minute, Carlos Meneses missed a penalty. It seemed like that would be the one that got away for the UPSL side, but in the 87th minute Meneses redeemed himself and put the Florida Soccer Soldiers up 2-1, which would be the final score.
The Florida Soccer Soldiers are undefeated in UPSL play and have a goal differential of +17. They are a dominant side and if there is any UPSL squad that could make a serious run, it would be the team from North Miami Beach (or Cal FC, but that’s for someone else to talk about).
As for the Independence, Saturday saw the club drop yet another match, this time to fellow cellar dweller Loudoun United. The 3-1 loss means that Charlotte has not won a soccer match in nearly a month. In their first ten matches of the season, they’ve picked up just one win and only have a whopping four wins this calendar year.
If there was a perfect matchup for the Florida Soccer Soldiers to continue their Cinderella run, this is almost certainly it. A Charlotte Independence squad that has struggled mightily this season will have to try to defeat a red hot squad from South Florida if they want to advance, while that red hot squad looks to continue their underdog quest. It has storylines for both squads and should be interesting to watch.
Colorado Switchbacks vs. FC Denver
You’d have a hard time picking a better embodiment of how to build a modern grassroots soccer club than Denver FC. Founded in 2006 from a Craiglist post, the club now has four men’s teams that play at the semi-pro/elite amateur level in the Colorado Premier League, two of which are Open teams. Denver FC also reorganized a women’s Open team that started play in the CPL this spring. Denver’s alternative weekly, Westword, even named them the city’s Best Amateur Soccer Team for 2019.
Denver FC entered the 2019 U.S. Open Cup proper as the Mountain Region’s local qualifier, and they drew an away match against Midland-Odessa Sockers in the First Round. But, when that day rolled around, their flight to Midland was cancelled. Using the determination and resourcefulness needed for successful grassroots clubs, the team scrambled for other options. They ended up flying into El Paso and driving the four plus hours through the Trans-Pecos to make their match that evening. Undaunted, Denver FC lived up to their road warrior mantle and defeated the Sockers 2-1 when midfielder, Kyle Crouse, scored a 35-yard screamer in the 89th minute.
For their Second Round fixture, the team won’t have to go through such travel travails. This Wednesday Denver FC will only have to make a 90-minute drive south down I-25 to face Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Weidner Field. An affiliate of the Colorado Rapids, the Switchbacks play in the newly-rebranded USL Championship and enter the tournament with 24 other Championship teams.
This game will probably feel like deja vu as it is a virtual replay of last year’s Open Cup. Denver FC entered the 2018 tournament via qualification then defeated Azteca FC in the First Round. The teams met in the Second Round where the Switchbacks won 3-2 in a close, back-and-forth match.
Will this year will be a similar affair? The Switchbacks are currently sitting near the bottom of the Championship’s Western Conference and are likely looking to use this match as a spark to get their season back on track. But, Denver FC’s experience will keep them even-keeled and uncowed by their Division II rivals. If underdog Denver is able to keep the match close Colorado Springs, goalless in their last three matches, might start feeling the pressure to put one in the back of the net.
Colorado Springs should not underestimate their opponent’s skill. On top of that, Denver FC has shown the cool ability to score late. I wouldn’t put it past them to reverse last year’s form and steal this one away from their Centennial State brethren.
El Farolito vs Fresno FC
Just a week ago, El Farolito of the NPSL’s Golden Gate Conference, dispatched conference foe Academic SC, in the first round of the US Open Cup by a score of 2-1. Leonardo Fredes broke his arm with the overhead winner and won’t be available for El Faro’s Round Two matchup, at home, against Fresno FC. Currently, El Farolito sit 6th place in their league table, with only two wins and two draws from seven games played so far. A far cry from the 32-point, conference winning performance in 2018, which is what qualified them to enter this year’s US Open Cup in the first round.
With Fredes out, head coach Santiago Lopez will look to Ronaldo Herrera, Carolos Montes, and Franco Calero to keep El Faro in the contest. The club are coming off a regular season draw, where East Bay Stompers played them to a 0-0 stalemate. They drew at home a week before that, and their two regular season wins have also come at home, so El Faro are showing signs of being a stronger homeside. They don’t have another NPSL match until June 1st, when they start a four game homestand, so, their supporter’s group, Burrito Brava, should expect their squad to leave nothing out on the pitch this Wednesday night. Founded in 1985, El Farolito are one of the more distinguished clubs in the competition and El Faro’s fans are looking for a repeat of their legendary run of 1993, when the club actually won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, though they were temporarily named CD Mexico at the time.
Round two of the Open Cup see franchises from USL Championship enter the tournament—Fresno FC are one of them. Currently 3rd in the West, with two matches in hand on some of their conference rivals, the Foxes, or Zorros, have a loss, a draw and three wins in their last five games played. There are no standouts with goals scored; guys like Christian Chaney and Jemal Johnson have three goals apiece; however, they have multiple players who have one or two goals and seem to get contributions from all over the pitch. Jackson has 5 assists and 13 created chances, while Juan Pablo Caffa has 2 assists, but has created 20 chances in only 8 appearances.
Head coach Adam Smith, who has worked in Sacramento with legendary coach Preki, as well as in Portland as the inaugural goalkeeping coach and eventual academy director, has loads of experience managing players at this level and has his Fresno squad well-oiled. His goalkeeper CJ Cochran, who has spent time with Atlanta Silverbacks, OKC Energy, Nashville SC, and now Fresno, as 3 clean sheets from 9 starts and their backline hasn’t given up more than two goals in a match since last season. Their most recent win was on the road, giving LA Galaxy II a 3-0 thumping. As a matter of fact, 3 of the Foxes 4 wins have come on the road, which, fingers-crossed, should result in a compelling US Open Cup round two match at historic Boxer Stadium in San Francisco. Fresno will make a 3-hour drive from Central Valley, California to the Bay Area for a 2:30 pm (PST) kickoff on Wednesday, May 15th.
OKC Energy vs. North Texas Rayados
North Texas Rayados have seen this story before and so have we, but we don’t get tired of a watching it again. The Rayados play in the North Texas Premier Soccer League and, with only one exception, are the biggest underdogs in the entire tournament. FC Denver plays at a similar level in the Colorado Premier League. But everyone else Rayados come against play from better funded, better supported leagues with massive local support. This seems to be a position they are completely comfortable with in this tournament.
Their track record of qualifying for the tournament is impressive, considering the odds of playing through 3-4 competitive qualifying rounds just to enter the Open Cup. Rayados have done that every year since 2011. Last year’s run was one for the ages, when the tiny local club made it to the 4th round and played against eventual champion, Houston Dynamo. Along the route, they knocked off a little club from Oklahoma, the same club they will be playing tomorrow.
Oklahoma City has had a rough time in the USL since 2015. After two seasons of great success, the club has had three years with mid-table finishes of 7th, 6th, and 10th in the West. This season looks like more of the same, with the club currently holding on to the 8th spot. However, it’s important to remember that the level of play in the USL Championship is almost incomparable to the North Texas Premier League.
So here we have a matchup of a USOC-veteran non-league side from a tiny local league going up against a mid-table side in one of the biggest leagues in the country. This is a David and Goliath rematch, after David knocked out the giant last year. What will we see this year? How can you bet against David?
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. The Villages SC
After an enthralling and draining win against the Lakeland Tropics on May 7th, The Villages SC now pay a visit to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the second round of the US Open Cup. The Rowdies are currently joint leaders in the Eastern Conference of the USL Championship at 20 points with NY Red Bulls 2. Over their last five games, they are undefeated, with two wins and three draws. While that is a decent run of form, it also doesn’t exactly exude confidence in the squad.
On the flip side, The Villages SC have yet to kick off their League 2 season. The Buffalo look to build on an impressive 2018 season that saw them finish second with a 9W-3D-2L record and a spot in the Southern Conference Championship. Once in the championship, the Buffalo made a solid run to the National Semifinal, where they lost to Reading United 1-0. I look for them to push even harder to get to the National Championship and ultimately win it this year.
While I have not kept up recently with the Rowdies or The Villages SC, I expect The Villages to come out swinging. Having said that, I feel that the length of travel (2 hours with traffic) and the fact that it is a midweek game plays into the Rowdies benefit. Unless the players on The Villages were able to get the day off work, I expect some of them to be tired or not physically ready to deal with the pressure I’m sure Tampa plans to employ. Overall, I see Tampa advancing to the next round, 3-1.
Des Moines Menace vs. Saint Louis FC
USL Championship side Saint Louis FC travel to the Hawkeye State to face USL League Two's Des Moines Menace in what will be an interesting matchup between teams at both ends of the United Soccer League's new structure. Des Moines go into the game on a high after winning their opening USL-2 game 2-0 against Green Bay Voyageurs, but struggled to put away NPSL side Duluth FC in the first round of the Open Cup, only managing to do so after extra time and penalties. The game was also not without controversy, with Des Moines defender James Thomas conceding a penalty in the 34th minute for a charge that has been described as a hockey check (if hockey players checked with their elbows). If this game does go to penalties however, Des Moines will be buoyed by the knowledge that they scored all three of theirs in the best of five, while Scotsman and captain Jordan Bell saved two of Duluth’s spot kicks.
Meanwhile, visitors St. Louis FC have played nine games in the USL Championship Eastern Conference, winning five and losing only once. Their tight defense has conceded only once in the last three games (against 17th-placed Swope Park Rangers), but on the other hand, the two clean sheets came from 0-0 draws. So, the game seems poised to be a tense affair, with Saint Louis sure to want to avoid extra time and penalties by getting their offense firing within 90 minutes. My favorite piece of Saint Louis trivia is that their manager is Anthony Pulis, son of current Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis; Pulis Sr.’s influence seems most keenly felt as Saint Louis often try to put pressure on their opponents’ goal in the first 15 minutes or so before emphasizing defense in depth with good organization and fundamentals. Des Moines must guard against conceding early if they want to progress to the third round and fly the flag for USL-2.
El Paso Locomotive vs. Forward Madison
There normally are not very surprising matchups, geographically speaking, in the early rounds of the US Open Cup. However, El Paso and the faithful of the Locomotive have been handed an absolute treat in this one by drawing a club who has made waves nationwide from their place in the Midwest, Forward Madison FC, known more affectionately as the Flamingos.
While Locomotive have reached this round purely by virtue of existing in the USL Championship, the Mingos had to get past one of the best amateur teams in the country and 2018 UPSL National Champions, Milwaukee Bavarians SC. The Mingos were professional in getting past the Amateur Cup Champions, scoring two first half goals and limiting Bavarians’ chances. Brandon Eaton and Jiro Barriga Toyama were the goalscorers on the day and lead Forward into the 2nd Round.
As for League form, Forward Madison have recorded two each of wins, draws, and losses, or as Thanos would say, “Perfectly Balanced.” This record along with a +1 goal difference belies a team that has been exactly average. Josiel Nunez is their top scorer in League One with two goals so they will look to spread the goals across the team as they do in the league. The approach has its pros and cons, as it makes them less predictable but without a clear danger man they could struggle against Locomotive’s defense.
Locomotive, on the other hand, have an emerging focal point in Jerome Kiesewetter. The former USMNT forward has two braces in the last two matches, beginning to convert the chances he is getting in front of goal. Locomotive are improving as a squad as well, undefeated in four straight since a loss to Phoenix Rising FC. The USL Championship side’s approach is a possession-based game that will likely leave Forward Madison with few chances on their journey to the Southwest. Locomotive will look to wear the Mingos down and get them chasing the game while a more incisive attack which has found fluidity in the last few matches will test the League One side’s resolve.
This matchup might be unexpected in terms of the geography involved, but you can expect this one to be extremely entertaining. The lineup will likely be full strength for Madison while Locomotive may look to give chances to less regular players. Look for hometown hero Louis Chapa Herrera to get a spot in the starting eleven in front of the El Paso community. Can Madison get past a Locomotive side playing three games in a week or will the Championship outfit impose themselves at home? Time will tell and this matchup will hopefully remind us of the potentially amazing ties that Cup soccer can bring.