US Open Cup Has Reached Its Annual Boiling PointDate: July 14, 2017
By: James Justice (@JamesJusticeIII)
The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest competition in American soccer. Its heritage can be traced back a full lifetime before Major League Soccer's inception, through the days of Pele and the AstroTurf of the NASL, and even through the days of wartime in the early 20th century when soccer was a sport that was only embraced by the immigrants who brought the game over from Europe and other corners of the world.
Now, in 2017, it doesn't get the spotlight it deserves. Most of its games can only be seen on dodgy internet streams, and due to low foot traffic, games are often relocated to smaller facilities, such as the modest Jordan Field, on the campus of Harvard University, that was home of Thursday night's quarterfinal match between the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution.
With time winding down on a lifeless affair, referee Jair Marrufo took something from an exchange with New England Revolution defender Benjamin Anguoa, giving him a straight red card for some sort of dissent or off the ball incident which was not perfectly decipherable while watching live.
Nevertheless by virtue of the decision the Red Bulls were up a man, and with their advantage did something that seemed incomprehensible to fans that have seen them falter in so many previous occasions, capitalize. Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, in the 87th minute, received a slick through pass from his teammate Felipe, took a deft touch inside, away from his defender, and methodically in stride placed the ball into the near corner of the net. The Red Bulls would take the game 1-0 and are now a mere two games from the club's first cup competition title.
The intrigue of these four semifinal matches had to do with each one delivering its own regional or league vs. league rivalry. In tonight's match it was a northeast, I-95 match between the Red Bulls and Revolution, and the Red Bulls would punch their spot, advancing through the East Region. Rewind to Monday and over in the West Region it was a California, or Cali Clasico with the San Jose Earthquakes and L.A. Galaxy playing at their usual home, Avaya Stadium. In that match, two Chris Wondolowski goals were the difference as San Jose got past L.A. 3-2.
In the Central Region, Sporting KC and FC Dallas played to the tune of a wild 120 minute contest at Children's Mercy Park on the outskirts of Kansas City. SKC would come out the victors 3-0 but were forced to play down a man for over 85 minutes as veteran defender Seth Sinovic was sent off in the 15th minute. The game would go to extra time, where in the 101st minute FC Dallas' energetic forward Maximiliano Urruti would even the playing field, receiving a second yellow. Sporting would get the go-ahead goal following that from Latif Blessing, and then another Dallas red card would be the precursor to another two Kansas City goals, ending a game that epitomized the wild in these two Western Conference teams.
On one side of the bracket those two familiar foes in L.A. and Sporting will meet, but on the other side the Red Bulls await much different opposition. Their opponent will be the winner of a contest that was scheduled for Tuesday but postponed due to weather, featuring two teams from the two separate major lower leagues. FC Cincinnati, from the United Soccer League, will line up against Miami FC, from the North American Soccer League. The feel-good factor is rich with these two teams, especially FC Cincinnati, who despite only beginning play in 2016, regularly draw north of 20,000 fans and are in a state where every positive action is a campaign pitch toward the top league, MLS.
Teams like Miami and Cincinnati are what makes competitions, to piggy back on the cliche buzz word, magical. It's a reflection of what is seen in England when during the FA Cup, teams from England's third, fourth, and even semi-amateur fifth tier line up against the shiny, prized goliaths of the Premier League's upper echelon.
Whoever does advance will be big underdogs against their next round opponent the Red Bulls, although fans of New York will be quick to push away any expectation for a side that has come up short time and time again in both past and present incarnations.
The Open Cup can also be quirky, as one game knockout tournament can be. It is far from the litmus test for best quality in the major leagues, and routinely at least one of the later stage sides are underperforming in league play. It could be argued that is the case with New York and San Jose, certainly neither of those teams are among the best four in the United States right now, and of course, the same can be said for either lower division side.
Still, the competition offers an escape for these teams. It is one game, placed here and there throughout the season, offering a shot at salvation and glory. In the early stages that glory can seem so intangible, especially with the half-hearted fan interest and inferior opposition. But eventually it reaches a point where all that melts away, and a team can definitively taste a shot at cup triumph. And that time is here, that time is now. Only two more games remain for the three penciled in sides from MLS, and the one undetermined from the lower leagues.
James Justice can be found on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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