27 June, 2012

US Open Cup Final Four

Yes, I'm watching the Euro intensely (bummer for Bruno Alves hitting the inside of the crossbar in the shootout today), but I want to remind you that there is still a big tournament going on right here in the USA. Of the 16 MLS teams that entered the US Open Cup in the round of 32, 12 are eliminated, 4 remain, and of the 12 that were eliminated, 9 were eliminated by minor league teams.

The Harrisburg (PA) City Islanders of USL Pro (that's Division III) had an outstanding run, eliminating the New England Revolution in the round of 32 in a shootout in one of the craziest games I've ever heard about. The score at the end of regulation was a 0-0 draw. New England scored three goals in the first overtime session to take a 3-0 lead after 105 minutes. Then, Harrisburg somehow scored three goals in the final 15 minute session to tie the game 3-3 and send the match to penalties at Hersheypark, PA. Harrisburg made 4 out of 5 penalties, and New England had 3 out of 4, when the fifth kicker, Benny Feilhaber, stepped up for the Revolution. Harrisburg goalkeeper Nick Noble (formerly of the Chicago Fire, zero MLS appearances) saved the penalty to advance.

Then, Harrisburg solidly beat the NY Red Bulls in the round of 16 by a convincing 3-1 score with two goals in overtime following a 1-1 draw at the end of regulation. They were red hot, defeating their parent MLS club Philadelphia Union in a friendly 3-2 which resulted in Philadelphia firing coach Peter Nowak. Sadly, the City Islanders were rematched against Philadelphia Union yesterday in the US Open Cup quarterfinals, and the Union went through 5-2 with two penalty kick goals during the match.

Another amazing run came from the Dayton Dutch Lions, who promoted from the USL Premier Development League to USL Pro in 2010. The Dutch Lions defeated the Columbus Crew in the round of 32 by a 2-1 score. With Columbus up 1-0 with a first-half penalty kick goal, the match seemed decided with only 11 minutes remaining, until the surprising Dutch Lions tied the match in the 79th minute, and then two minutes later scored the game winner in the 81st. In the quarterfinals today, Dayton ran into Sporting KC, and the dream was over. Sporting KC 3, Dayton Dutch Lions 0.

The USL Pro Charlotte Eagles eliminated FC Dallas in the round of 32 by a 2-0 score, and then in the round of 16 the Eagles got another tough matchup in Texas against the NASL (that's Division II) San Antonio Scorpions, who knocked out the Houston Dymano 1-0 on a penalty kick goal in the round of 32. Charlotte defeated San Antonio 2-1 when seven year MLS vet Ryan Cochrane (San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, and New England Revolution) of San Antonio handled the ball in overtime with the score tied 1-1, conceding the winning penalty kick to the Eagles. Charlotte's run, which made 3 of the final 8 teams USL Pro (Division III, remember) teams, ended in the quarterfinals when Chivas USA defeated them in exciting fashion earlier today. Chivas USA were up 1-0 when Charlotte tied the game in the 89th minute. Then, very late in stoppage time, rookie Colombian forward Jose Correa scored his second goal of the game for Chivas USA to eliminate the last USL Pro team 2-1. Chivas USA had eliminated the last NASL team in the round of 16 as well, as the NASL Carolina Railhawks had defeated the LA Galaxy 1-0 in the round of 32 before running into the "other" Los Angeles MLS team.

In the last quarterfinal match, three time US Open Cup champions Seattle Sounders defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 in an ugly game marked by lots of yellow cards, San Jose forward Alan Gordon ejected with a second yellow after retaliating with a head butt upon getting up after a hard foul (like Zinedine Zidane in 2006) and a brawl after the game between Seattle's Eddie Johnson (class act, that Eddie Johnson!) and San Jose's benchwarmer Jed Zayner, who wasn't even in the game. Tempers flared after an un-named Seattle player stopped the Quakes final shot on goal with a handball in the 95th minute. San Jose had a relatively easy trip to the quarterfinals, defeating the NASL Minnesota Stars (formerly Minnesota Thunder) in the round of 16 after the ThunderStars knocked out Real Salt Lake as a favor to the Quakes, 3-1, in the round 32.

So, despite a great run to the quarterfinals by Harrisburg City Islanders, Dayton Dutch Lions, and Charlotte Eagles, all USL Pro teams who defeated MLS opponents along the way (Harrisburg twice), the US Open Cup final four will be Philadelphia Union vs Sporting KC and Chivas USA vs Seattle Sounders.

Props also to the NASL San Antonio Scorpions, Carolina Railhawks and Minnesota Stars for knocking out MLS teams in the round of 32, and to the Michigan Bucks, of the USL Premier Development League (that's Division IV) who beat an MLS team for the second time, this year beating the Chicago Fire 3-2 in overtime in the round of 32. The Bucks are, to my knowledge, the only USL Premier Development League team to beat an MLS team in the Open Cup, and they have done it twice now. The Bucks fell to the Dayton Dutch Lions in the round of 16.

The biggest shout goes to the US Adult Soccer Association amateur side called Cal FC (based in Thousand Oaks, CA) knocked out the Portland Timbers 1-0 in the round of 32, with an overtime goal at Portland. And before you ask, no, Cal FC head coach (and part owner) Eric Wynalda was NOT playing in the game. Cal FC were thumped by the Seattle Sounders 5-0 in the round of 16 but who cares? They are the second USASA team to defeat an MLS team (after Dallas Roma in 2006) and the first to do it without needing penalty kicks. Congratulations, Cal FC!

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