Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Magic of the U.S. Open Cup: Round Three Storylines

Oakland Roots Will Play In The U.S. Open Cup Today

America’s favorite tournament is back with a bang. After intense offseason controversy, the nation’s oldest soccer competition returned last month. There’s been plenty of drama in the opening two rounds, which featured both professional and amateur sides. Tomorrow, the U.S. Open Cup third round kicks off. Here are the top storylines to look out for.

Lower-League Teams Chase U.S. Open Cup Glory

Big Shoes to Fill for MLSNP Squads

One major talking point thus far has been the cup debut of MLS NEXT Pro sides. After MLS opted to enter only eight of its first teams in the competition,  nine reserve squads and two independent NEXT Pro clubs got the nod. These debutants entered in the first round. They were joined by teams from the other third-tier leagues, USL League One and NISA, as well as amateur qualifiers.

The MLSNP teams have gone about their cup participation in wildly different ways. Some have started their true second teams, bowing out early to amateurs or more experienced professional sides. Others have sent first team players, young and old, down to help the reserves make a deep run. One independent club (Chattanooga FC) was upset at home by non-league opposition in the first round. The other, Carolina Core FC, is marching on to the third round after two narrow triumphs.

Of the reserve sides, only two remain. Chicago Fire II, yet to concede a goal whilst scoring eight, played a number of usual substitutes, some as young as 15, in their emphatic first round victory. In the second round, however, several first-team regulars vaulted the squad to a win over professionals Forward Madison FC. New York City FC II have also been an entertaining team to watch, scoring seven goals across the first two rounds. They took out familiar foes, New York Red Bulls II, 4-2 to punch their ticket to round three.

The next slate of matches will be a unique test for the three survivors. The second-tier USL Championship enters its teams in the competition starting in the third round, meaning each NEXT Pro side will have to pull off an upset to advance. Can they continue to make the most of their first-ever cup appearance?

Amateur Clubs Chase New Upsets on the Road

As with every cup competition, there have been a few Cinderella runs in this one. None have attracted more attention than El Farolito, the California-based side named after a fast food joint. Boasting a number of former pro players amongst their ranks, they were drawn away to professional opponents in the first two rounds. The team came away with 2-1 wins against both Portland Timbers 2 and Central Valley Fuego FC. By the luck of the draw, or lack thereof, they’re on the road again in the Open Cup third round, taking on Oakland Roots SC. With two “cupsets” to their name, El Farolito have a shot at a third, their biggest one yet.

The Lubbock Matadors have been a Texas semi-pro powerhouse throughout their short history. They’ve shined on the pitch and attracted thousands of fans to their games. In just their second season (2023) in the fourth-tier NPSL, the Matadors won the Lone Star Division and qualified for the 2024 Open Cup. They produced a dramatic extra-time win over professionals Arizona Monsoon FC in round one, then comfortably defeated fellow Texas amateurs Foro SC in round two. Next up for Lubbock is New Mexico United, a top-half side in the USL Championship. It’ll be the most important match the amateur side have ever played.

Another NPSL giant, Miami United FC, have cruised into the third round. They’ve gone under the radar despite playing stellar football in both games. A 1-0 win away to MLSNP’s Chattanooga FC preceded a 2-0 blanking of NISA’s Club de Lyon at home. Two regulation victories and two clean sheets later, Miami have earned a trip to Memphis 901 FC. It’s a steep mountain to climb, but Miami United have certainly played at the level of a second-tier side thus far. Don’t rule them out.

A New Role in the Open Cup for USL Championship Teams

The U.S. Open Cup has been dominated by MLS clubs since the league came to be in 1996. Despite MLS teams winning all but one title in that span, the USL Championship has always been around to spoil the party. As recently as 2022, Sacramento Republic FC took down three MLS opponents en route to the final. Now, with most top-tier teams out of contention, there’s a massive opportunity for a USLC club to rise to the throne.

For the first time, second-tier teams are favored in each Open Cup third round clash. Also for the first time, eight USL Championship sides receive byes to the round of 32, where they’ll be joined by the eight MLS participants and 16 third round winners. It’s highly unlikely that every single USLC team will advance to the last 32, but it’s plausible to see around 20 do so. In other words, the next round will consist largely of teams from the Division II league. Furthermore, eight non-MLS teams will be amongst the final 16 standing in this iteration of the Open Cup, an unusual occurrence. Never have the stars aligned so perfectly for USL Championship clubs before. They all have a real chance at making history this year. The road starts this week.

Open Cup Never Ceases to Entertain

All controversies aside, the cup has been a joy to watch thus far, and it will continue to be. MLS’ scaled-down presence has left a noticeable mark on the fabric of the competition, but it hasn’t torn anything apart. Big names from the second tier, semi-pro minnows, and young, hungry reserve sides have kept the U.S. Open Cup alive and well. If you have the time over the next two days, tune in. There’s plenty still left to see.


Photo Credit: Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK, of an Oakland Roots Headshot and a Phoenix Rising Headshot, on June 10, 2023.


More Posts

Send Us A Message