The US Open Cup kicked off on Wednesday, May 11th with 23 matches being played across the country. There were 46 teams looking to make the second round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The 23 winners were drawn into 21 matches along with 17 USL clubs, and one additional NPSL and PDL club each joining the competition at the second round stage. The 3rd round draw took place on May 12th as the 21 potential winners of the 2nd round were drawn with 9 NASL clubs into 15 matches.
Here are my most intriguing potential 3rd round matchups and storylines to watch for.
OKC Energy (USL) vs. Rayo OKC (NASL)
There can be no doubt about the potential showpiece event of OKC Energy vs. Rayo OKC in the 3rd round of the Cup as the most intriguing matchup. Anyone who knows the history of soccer over the last few years in Oklahoma City was wishing for this draw since the two franchises went head to head in 2013. This may even be the showpiece match of the entire 2016 US Open Cup!
In 2013, two competing organizations went after the rights to a USL Pro Franchise in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City FC was a PDL club with initial ambition to be in the USL, with later ambition for a NASL franchise. They eventually became a proposed NASL franchise in 2013. They were supposed to debut as an expansion team in 2015. However, things didn’t go as planed.
At the time that Oklahoma City applied for a USL franchise, so did another sports management company. When the competing organization came in, Oklahoma City moved their sights to NASL. Since they were a PDL club (an affiliate of the USL), the USL basically kicked them out for speaking about moveing to a different organization. The USL instead awarded an expansion franchise to Sports Management Company Prodigal LLC, which became the OKC Energy FC.
Just before the 2014 season started, part owner of OKC City bought a 50% stake in the OKC Energy. This was significant because he was the one that owned the lease on Taft Stadium. Thus the OKC Energy could take this stadium over. The Energy began play in the USL that season in Taft, and is currently into their 3rd season having made the playoffs last year.
The OKC City NASL franchise looked to be all but dead. But just last November out of nowhere, majority owner of La Liga Side Rayo Vallecano bought the majority stock in OKC City, and rebranded them to Rayo OKC. They began play as an expansion team in the NASL this year, and will be playing in the Open Cup for the first time.
This potential huge intra-city derby has the perfect kindling to become one of the best rivalries in the US Soccer Pyramid. OKC Energy pulls in an impressive 4,500 average attendance per game, and sold out their home playoff matches last year. As well, Rayo OKC pulled in a massive 6,500 fans, for their home opener in the NASL this year. Assuming most of those fans aren’t overlap fans of both teams, those number for both are quite exciting for OKC Soccer and their ability to support two clubs, and potentially an awesome derby!
Louisville (USL) or Detroit (NPSL) vs. Indy Eleven (NASL)
My next most intriguing matchup is all about fans and supporters groups. Whether or not Detroit City FC is able to upset Louisville or not, NASL’s most supported and attended club, Indy Eleven, will host either border rival, USL’s Louisville City or NPSL’s Detroit City. Both teams also have an amazing fan base.
Detroit City is one of the most talked about 4th tier clubs in the US. The possibility of Detroit City, and their amazing supporters, the “Northern Guard,” making the trip to Indianapolis to face Indy Eleven’s massive home crowds of over ten thousand and their “Brickyard Battalion” would be a huge show for all the promotion relegation advocates country wide.
The other possibility, Louisville is just on the other side of the Ohio River from Indiana, barely more than 100 miles form Indianapolis. This border war would be a rematch of last year’s Cup as Louisville upset the Indy Eleven in extra time 2-0.
Charlotte Derby Winner (PDL/USL) vs. Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
My 3rd pick is a North Carolina Derby. The Carolina RailHawks are the only NASL team in the Carolinas. They play their home games in Cary, North Carolina. The USL has 3 teams in the Carolinas, one in Charlotte (The Independence), one in Wilmington, as well as one in Charleston, South Carolina. The PDL also has a team in Charlotte (PDL Eagles), which was formerly a USL team. The NASL RailHawks rarely get to face off against Carolina rivals except in the open cup, because they are in Division 2 and the rest are in Divisions 3 and 4.
Both the Eagles and the RailHawks have more than a ten-year history, with the Eagles dating back to 1991. While neither side has ever played in the same league, they have played each other on numerous occasions outside of league play. They have met before on two occasions in the Cup, with the RailHawks taking both matches.
If the RailHawks were to play the Independence, they would be looking for revenge as the Independence won last year’s matchup 1-0. This was their only competitive matchup against each other as the Independence is a young club. As well, the RailHawks are always a team to watch since they upset both the Galaxy and Chivas USA in 2013 and again in 2014!
USL vs. NASL 8 potential matches
Just like in round 1, my 4th pick is not a match up but a story line to watch. With the arbitrary nature and the lack of promotion relegation, the US Open Cup is the only way for fan’s to truly gauge how good their league is. There are 8 NASL vs. USL potential matches in the 3rd round of the Cup.
The NASL is a growing league hoping to reach eventual Division 1 status on par with MLS. The USL has partnered with the MLS in a minor league system, and is pushing for Division 2 status on par with the NASL. However, some very high level talent is choosing USL over NASL and vice versa. Thus, without playing each other in competitive matches, how do we know which league is better?
Last year the USL won all the 7 NASL vs. USL Matchups! This is fairly significant, because if they were to do it again, we can start to say with some confidence that the USL is not a Division 3 league and is at the very least on par with the NASL.
Reading United (PDL) vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL)
These two Pennsylvania rivals have been main stays in the US Soccer pyramid for over a decade now. Reading United was founded in 1996 and has spent time in both the 3rd tier and currently the 4th tier of the US Soccer pyramid. Reading United has produced numerous MLS players in their history, including 2011 MLS Rookie of the year C.J. Sapong. They are also on a streak of 5 straight years of reaching at least the 2nd round of the Cup. It is their 10th Cup appearance with 7 trips to the 2nd round and 2 to the 3rd, round, indicating that they are one of the most successful amateur sides in the Cup, since the founding of MLS.
Harrisburg City Islanders were founded in 2004. They have also had their own share of successes and Cup upsets. The Islanders upset a MLS Club in each of 3 consecutive Cups starting in 2008. Then again in 2012 they also upset two MLS Clubs in the 2012 edition, having 5 MLS victories in their history. With all of this success, it is no surprise that they have made it all the way to the quarterfinals on 4 occasions.
These two Cup Cinderella’s have met each other on 3 occasions in the Cup. Harrisburg won in 2011 2-1, followed by Reading winning in 2013 1-0, and then finally Harrisburg winning again last year 3-0. Philadelphia is the 3rd most successful State in the history of the US Open Cup having had clubs from their state win it 14 times. This all adds up to an enticing Cup tie.
Best of the rest
Miami Fusion FC (NPSL) vs. Miami FC (NASL)
Arizona United SC (USL) vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks (USL)