As the American soccer schedule rolls on in 2016, we’re approaching the space on the calendar that many fans have dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year.” And in a way, the U.S. Open Cup is indeed sort of an American soccer supporter’s Christmas—each match is a present waiting to be opened, full of goals, glory and upsets.
On Wednesday night, the 103rd edition of U.S. Soccer’s answer to March Madness kicks off as amateur and semi-pro teams enter the first round of the single-elimination tournament formally known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. There are a lot of matches, so I took the time to help you get familiar with all of them by writing up a short preview and prediction for each one. Enjoy!
Richmond Strikers (NPSL) – Aromas Café FC (USASA) | 5:00 EST
Richmond, formerly known as Chesterfield United, make their Cup debut under trying circumstances, with some players unavailable due to final exams according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Their opposition, meanwhile, come in as the darlings of the tournament, a multicultural café team that hopes to “impart a passion of camaraderie.”
Round 2 Opponent: Richmond Kickers (USL)
My predicted winner: Aromas Café FC
The Villages SC (PDL) – Kraze United SC (NPSL) | 5:00 EST
The Villages SC, who carry on the legacy of former Cup regulars Ocala Stampede, play at a polo field and represent a city whose average age is over 60 years. Kraze United, out of Orlando, are off to a flyer after beating the Gulf Coast Dutch Lions 6-0 in a preseason tune-up.
Round 2 Opponent: Charleston Battery (USL)
My Prediction: The Villages SC
Fredericksburg FC (NPSL) – West Chester United (USASA) | 5:30 EST
Despite a Feyenoord-inspired crest, Fredericksburg does not have Dutch connections but is instead the product of a merger with RVA FC, who rocked some seriously sweet jerseys and racked up a few Open Cup wins along the way. West Chester, meanwhile, makes its debut after years of coming oh-so-close, and like many amateur teams, features players with full-time jobs: there are accountants, salesmen, and even a medical student.
Round 2 Opponent: Harrisburg City Islanders (USL)
My Prediction: Fredericksburg FC
Reading United AC (PDL) – Atlanta Silverbacks (NPSL) | 7:00 EST
All the way back in 2013, Reading set a modern-era record by becoming the first amateur team to qualify for five-straight Open Cups. Now heading into its eighth-straight appearance, Reading have another streak to keep alive: Since 2012, they haven’t lost a Round One match. Their opponent, the Atlanta Silverbacks, are resurrected from the dead (much like the city itself) after folding from the NASL last year, and are looking to provide their die-hard supporters something to be proud of. (Yes, I know that was three sentences. I apologize.)
Round 2 Opponent: Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
My Prediction: Reading United AC
Clarkstown SC Eagles (NPSL) – Jersey Express (PDL) | 7:00 EST
Clarkstown swept through the NPSL’s Keystone Conference last year but fell in the league’s Regional Final to New York Cosmos B. They’ll have their work cut out for them against Jersey Express, who last year played their way up to a match against the Cosmos main team in Round Three.
Round 2 Opponent: New York Pancyprian Freedoms (USASA) or New York Red Bulls U-23 (PDL)
My Prediction: Jersey Express
Charlotte Eagles (PDL) – Myrtle Beach Mutiny (NPSL) | 7:00 EST
Charlotte Eagles, a missionary team, are probably best known either for their runner-up finish as a USL-PRO club in 2013 or for their run to the quarterfinals of this competition in 2012. They’ll look to force a Charlotte derby if they can best a Myrtle Beach side that is hungry to show up in its first Open Cup appearance.
Round 2 Opponent: Charlotte Independence (USL)
My Prediction: Charlotte Eagles
Miami Fusion FC (NPSL) – Boca Raton FC (USASA) | 7:00 EST
The new Miami Fusion, resurrected 13 years after its MLS namesake folded, began this year’s NPSL season in style with a 5-0 win over Adriano’s Miami United. Boca Raton FC, fresh off an American Premier Soccer League championship and chock-full of young, local talent, will come in with confidence: They beat the Fusion twice in 2015, outscoring them 6-1.
Round 2 Opponent: Wilmington Hammerheads (USL)
My Prediction: Boca Raton FC
Indy Eleven NPSL (NPSL) – Cincinnati Dutch Lions (PDL) | 7:00 EST
Formerly known as the Indiana Fire and now owned by Indiana’s professional soccer team instead of Chicago’s, Indy Eleven NPSL brings experienced players such as former USL-PRO midfielder Nago Mbengue and Chicago Fire draft pick Vincent Mitchell. They should have a good crowd on hand to catch their match against the Cincinnati Dutch Lions, who are making their debut in the competition.
Round 2 Opponent: FC Cincinnati (USL)
My Prediction: Indy Eleven NPSL
Long Island Rough Riders (PDL) – Lansdowne Bhoys FC (USASA) | 7:30 EST
The Rough Riders are probably one of the longest continuously-running clubs in this year’s tournament, having formed in 1994 and appearing in the Open Cup quarterfinals in 1997. Now, the NYCFC affiliate faces off against a Cosmopolitan Soccer League team inspired by Celtic, who hope to translate their stunning league form into a surprise Cup run.
Round 2 Opponent: Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL)
My Prediction: Long Island Rough Riders
New York Pancyprian-Freedoms (USASA) – New York Red Bulls U-23s (PDL) | 7:30 EST
The Pancyprian-Freedoms, famous for dominating the Open Cup in the 1980s (three titles speak for themselves), took the hard road to qualification by beating four-time champion Greek-American Atlas and Jersey Boca FC. The Baby Bulls, meanwhile, will feature mostly academy alumni, providing a path similar to the one followed by players such as Sean Davis.
Round 2 Opponent: Clarkstown SC Eagles (NPSL) or Jersey Express (PDL)
My Prediction: New York Red Bulls U-23s
Michigan Bucks (PDL) – Detroit City FC (NPSL) | 7:30 EST
The Michigan Bucks have every reason to go into this match with high hopes, having beaten Detroit 3-0 in the same round of the competition last year. And yet, it’s City that will draw the headlines as they hope to satisfy their notoriously energetic fanbase with their first win in three tries and set up a trip down to Kentucky for the second round.
Stream: None (but the Northern Guard is trying)
Round 2 Opponent: Louisville City FC (USL)
My Prediction: Detroit City FC
Southie FC (USASA) – Seacoast United Phantoms (PDL) | 8:00 EST
Southie FC, founded in 2012, are ahead of schedule with their Open Cup entrance, and are aiming for their team of friends and former teammates to be the “best team in Massachusetts” and beyond. Seacoast are coming off some Open Cup success themselves, and will be led by striker Alencar Junior, who has 33 goals in 26 PDL matches and scored this sweet goal for Western Mass Pioneers in the Cup two years ago.
Round 2 Opponent: Rochester Rhinos (USL)
My Prediction: Seacoast United Phantoms
GPS Portland Phoenix (PDL) – AFC Cleveland (NPSL) | 8:00 EST
The PDL’s 2015 North East champions, Portland Phoenix, is relying on mostly college players to replicate the Maine team’s 2013 success in 2013, when it bested Mass Premier 2-0 in what remains the only Open Cup victory in club history. Debutants AFC Cleveland are the first club to represent the Ohio city since 2009, when the Cleveland City Stars (featuring one Evan Bush) beat the St. Louis Lions 3-0 before falling to the Rochester Rhinos.
Round 2 Opponent: Saint Louis FC (USL)
My Prediction: GPS Portland Phoenix
Mississippi Brilla (PDL) – CD Motagua of New Orleans (USASA) | 8:00 EST
Mississippi, the second missionary club in this tournament, have a history of churning out professional players, but haven’t made an Open Cup appearance since 2012. They’ll have pro experience on their roster as they take on the Honduran-influenced Motagua of New Orleans, who feature some ex-pros themselves, and are the first Louisiana-based team to participate in the cup since the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers did so in 1997.
Round 2 Opponent: Oklahoma City Energy (USL)
My Prediction: Mississippi Brilla
FC Wichita (NPSL) – Des Moines Menace (PDL) | 8:05 EST
Even as debutants, FC Wichita have already generated a lot of buzz, and are ready to bring a historic part of the American soccer culture to a place it has rarely touched. They host perhaps the most fancied lower-league team in the tournament, Des Moines Menace, who boast a 12-10 record in the Open Cup, have won three straight Round 1 games, and were up against Sporting Kansas City not long ago.
Round 2 Opponent: Tulsa Roughnecks (USL)
My Prediction: Des Moines Menace
Albuquerque Sol FC (PDL) – Harpo’s FC (USSSA) | 8:30 EST
Entering their third season of play, Albuquerque Sol have established a fanbase and can now boast a winning team to match, having made the PDL playoffs via a second-place finish in the Mountain Division in 2015. Harpo’s FC became famous last year for being the pub team that could, and this year, the goal is to use USL-level talent to advance even further and knock off a pro team.
Round 2 Opponent: Colorado Springs Switchbacks (USL)
My Prediction: Albuquerque Sol FC
NTX Rayados (USASA) – Corinthians FC of San Antonio (NPSL) | N/A
In a shocking announcement, NTX Rayados were disqualified from the U.S. Open Cup Tuesday night due to player ineligibility. Advancing to the second round in a Sant Antonio derby are a Corinthians team with heavy connections to the Mexican national team, boasting Benjamin Galindo as head coach and Miguel Sabah as one of several big-name players.
Round 2 Opponent: San Antonio FC (USL)
Sacramento Gold (NPSL) – Burlingame Dragons (PDL) | 10:00 EST
As both teams look for Open Cup win #1 in club history, Sacramento will do so after coming off one of its most successful campaigns in years, having made a run to the NPSL’s playoff quarterfinals in 2015. Burlingame, the San Jose Earthquakes PDL affiliate, have prepped with some big signings, including U.S. youth internationals, and started off the season with 1-0 and 4-0 wins.
Round 2 Opponent: Portland Timbers U-23s (PDL) or La Maquina FC (USASA)
My Prediction: Burlingame Dragons
Ventura County Fusion (PDL) – L.A. Wolves FC (USASA) | 10:00 EST
The VC Fusion are a powerhouse in the Open Cup, having won five consecutive first-round games (including this one from 2015) and looking to make it six after getting some preseason preparations in against USL teams Sacramento Republic and Colorado Springs Switchbacks. L.A. may be the underdogs (underwolves, if you will), but are coming off a 20-1 season in the United Premier Soccer League and overcame the infamous Cal FC in qualifying to get to this point.
Round 2 Opponent: Orange County Blues (USL)
My Prediction: Ventura County Fusion
San Francisco City FC (USCS) – CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL) | 10:00 EST
Despite being a newly-minted PDL team, community-owned SF City qualified for their first Open Cup proper (as opposed to the preliminary round) through U.S. Club Soccer this year, and will hope to use talent such as Adnan Gabeljic to earn a San Francisco team’s first win since 2007. Aguiluchos, named after the Salvadoran C.D. Aguila, are also looking for their first Open Cup win, and are coming in on a high after reaching the NPSL semifinals in 2015.
Round 2 Opponent: Sacramento Republic (USL)
My Prediction: San Francisco City FC
FC Tucson (PDL) – San Nicolas FC (USASA) | 10:30 EST
After knocking out two professional teams on their way to playing the Houston Dynamo in 2013, FC Tucson was embarrassed in 2015 by Cinderella amateurs Chula Vista FC. This year, if they want to set up an Arizona derby in Round 2 they’ll have to take down San Nicolas FC, the California club that was suspended from league play after a brawl but is ready to redeem itself in its first Open Cup appearance.
Round 2 Opponent: Arizona United (USL)
My Prediction: FC Tucson
Portland Timbers U-23s (PDL) – La Maquina FC (USASA) | 10:30 EST
The reigning MLS Cup champions’ U-23 team enter their fourth Open Cup in five years in 2016, carrying a 2-1 Round 1 record and featuring several academy alumni. La Maquina, meanwhile, are responsible for making sure Chula Vista FC wouldn’t get a chance to repeat its fairytale run, crushing them 4-0 in qualifying; they were helped by notable players such as former Chivas USA defender Carlos Borja.
Round 2 Opponent: Sacramento Gold (NPSL) or Burlingame Dragons (PDL)
My Prediction: La Maquina FC
Seattle Sounders U-23s (PDL) – Outbreak FC (USASA) | 10:30 EST
Not quite as successful as their Rose City counterparts (they’ve only got one USOC appearance), Seattle’s U-23s are looking to make a statement this time around. Their opponents, Outbreak, are another tournament darling, a team with an average age of 34 that got together after some friends’ mutual encouragement, and after qualifying via a 4-3 thriller they’re ready to go after a team consisting of many players more than a decade younger.
Round 2 Opponent: Kitsap Pumas (PDL)
My Prediction: Seattle Sounders U-23s