Charleston Battery v Chicago Fire - Carolina Challenge Cup

Can lower-tier teams still go far in US Open Cup?


It is the romance of cup competitions that sparks passion, dreams and drama into the lives of every soccer fan.

I’m no different. I love the knockout formats and with this year being the 100th US Open Cup, I’m expecting something special.

Today the Centennial edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup kicks off, with the play in rounds set for this evening.

Find out the draw for the early rounds here, and loads of really cool facts, figures and Open Cup snippets too.

But as I was sat back thinking about the Open Cup, a sad thought entered my mind. “What if second or third tier teams could no longer compete with MLS sides in the future?”

Many would argue that point arrived long ago and we are way past it. But we have to remember that in the early rounds of this competition, MLS sides often send out weakened teams filled with youngsters and reserve players. The level evens out and as we saw on multiple occasions last season, upsets occur.

In the 2012 competition, Carolina defeated LA Galaxy, Cal FC beat Portland, the Michigan Bucks defeated Chicago, Harrisburg beat New England, San Antonio beat Houston, Minnesota defeated RSL and the Charlotte Eagles beat FC Dallas…all in one round!

Last seasons US Open Cup filled me with hope that the burgeoning soccer pyramid in the US was growing stronger by the season and smaller clubs could have the chance of replicating the famous upsets we see in the FA Cup and other cup competitions in Europe, season after season.

(More: New stadiums now heavier in lower tiers, US soccer moving forward)

Lower league teams are getting closer to MLS in terms of infrastructure and the gap is definitely closing. Therefore, every season the US Open Cup acts as a litmus test for just how far the rest of the US soccer pyramid is growing. Last season proved smaller teams can now compete with MLS, and this season people will judge NASL and USL sides on how well they perform against teams from Major League Soccer.

However, with the USL Pro-MLS Reserve League deal, ultimately this US Open Cup will become a little more complex, with player shared from parent clubs etc. Add to that the fact that two MLS U-23 sides have qualified for this seasons competition and we may lose some of that regional, almost tribal, rivalry.

(More: US Open Cup field set, as Centennial tournament awaits)

When the Galaxy rolled into Cary, North Carolina last May, they were the reigning MLS Champs, everyone knew who they were. But the Railhawks battled hard, the fans created an intimidating atmosphere and Bruce Arena’s face was a deep shade of scarlet after his side were upset by the NASL outfit.

I am not saying those days are over, because last seasons Open Cup proved NASL and USL Pro teams are drawing closer to the level of MLS sides all the time. But I am hoping a lower-league team can make it to the finals, or even the semis. Is that too much to ask?

The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup in ’99 and the Charleston Battery lost to D.C. United in the 2008 final. But those are the only two non-MLS teams to make it all the way to the final since MLS arrived in 1996.

I can see Orlando City, Tampa Bay, Carolina and possibly Charleston going far in this seasons competition.

Wouldn’t it be great for US soccer if a lower-tier team steps up and takes the Centennial US Open Cup? It would provide hope for the future anyway, that this terrific cup competition won’t fall by the wayside into obscurity.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 4-1 Houston Dynamo

CHESTER, PA - MARCH 21: Tesho Akindele #13 of FC Dallas celebrates his second half goal with his teammates against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on March 21, 2015 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): FC Dallas completed the season sweep over their in-state rivals, defeating the Houston Dynamo 3-1 tonight at Toyota Stadium. Dallas won all three meetings between the two clubs, outscoring Houston 10-2 in the process. David Texeira scored a brace for the home side today, who sit atop the Western Conference, tied with the Galaxy on points. Houston remains three points behind Portland and San Jose for the final playoff spot in the West. Raul Rodriguez picked up a late red card for the Dynamo, and will be suspended for the rest of the season.

[ RELATED: What we learned from Arsenal’s win over Manchester United ]

Three moments that mattered

25′ — Mauro Diaz penalty puts Dallas ahead — Rasheed Olabiyi took down the shifty Fabian Catillo in the box, giving FC Dallas a penalty kick. Mauro Diaz stepped up to the spot and slotted it home, giving the home side a lead.

51′ — Texeira scores on a long-range strike — Ricardo Clark had drawn Houston level in the first half, but David Texeira put Dallas back ahead right after the break. Texeira picked up the ball about 25 yards out and rifled a shot off the crossbar and in, a beautiful strike from Uruguayan.

53′ — Acosta wastes no time to make it 3-1 — Immediately after Texeira had given Dallas the lead, Kellyn Acosta scored to make it 3-1. Fabian Castillo rolled a pass into the box, where Acosta buried it into the top corner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Texeira

Goalscorers: Diaz (PEN, 25′), Clark (36′). Texeira (51′, 90’+3′), Acosta (53′)

Red card: Rodriguez (89′)

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Villarreal suffers first loss

Michal Duris, Eric Bailly
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Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

Levante 1-0 Villarreal

Villarreal suffered its first loss of the La Liga season, falling 1-0 away to Levante. Levante entered the match without a win, but were able to take advantage of the league leaders, who were forced to play most of the match with ten men after Bojan Jokic was sent off in the first half. Despite playing a man down, Villarreal nearly held on for a draw, but Deyverson scored in the 83rd minute to give Levante the upset win.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real MadridMORE

Real failed to capitalize on Villarreal’s loss, as an early season Madrid derby ended in a 1-1 draw. Karim Benzema’s stellar form continued as the French striker put Real ahead early in the match, but Luciano Vietto equalized with less than ten minutes to play for Atleti. Real Madrid sits second in the league, one point behind Villarreal.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Valencia

After a big win over Lyon in the Champions League, Valencia fell 3-1 to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga play. Dani Parejo gave Valencia the lead 20 minutes in, but Athletic responded with three unanswered goals to earn a win for Ernesto Valverde’s men.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo 0-2 Real Betis
Celta Vigo 0-0 Getafe
Sevilla 2-1 Barcelona
Espanyol 1-2 Sporting Gijon
Malaga 3-1 Real Sociedad
Granada 1-1 Deportivo
Las Palmas 0-2 Eibar

AC Milan 0-4 Napoli

Napoli traveled to the San Siro and got a massive win, thrashing AC Milan by four goals. Lorenzo Insigne continues to score for Napoli, as the striker bagged a brace for his side, who have now won three straight in Serie A. The loss was Milan’s first dropped points at home this season, as the Rossoneri have been shutout in consecutive matches.

[ RELATED: Zlatan becomes PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer ]

Juventus 3-1 Bologna

Juventus followed up a win in the Champions League over Sevilla with a win in Serie A over Bologna, who have lost six of seven matches to open the season. Alvaro Morata scored again for Juve, while Sami Khedira also got on the scoresheet, the German’s first goal for his new club. The result was just the second league win of the season for Juventus, who move up to 12th on the table.

Sampdoria 1-1 Inter Milan

After opening the season with five straight victories, Inter Milan is now winless in two after drawing away to Sampdoria. On the heels of a loss to Fiorentina, Inter fell behind to Sampdoria after Luis Muriel put the hosts ahead. However, Inter grabbed a point through Ivan Perisic, who scored his first goal for the club since joining from Wolfsburg this summer.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Carpi 2-1 Torino
Chievo 1-1 Verona
Empoli 1-0 Sassuolo
Palermo 2-4 Roma
Lazio 2-0 Frosinone
Fiorentina 3-0 Atalanta
Udinese 1-1 Genoa