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

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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.

WATCH: Rashford sends arrow home to put Man Utd up two

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Seemingly everything he touches turns to gold goals.

Marcus Rashford scored twice in the first 17 minutes of Wednesday’s League Cup third round match versus Burton Albion at Old Trafford, and the second was a beaut.

[ MORE: Everton fines Rooney ]

It was a classy little chipped finish that made it 1-0, but Rashford unleashed from outside the 18 to beat a flying goalkeeper and put a jewel on the scoreboard.

Well, not really a jewel, but picture that “2” as real shiny.

Rashford now has five goals in eight matches for Manchester United this season, and 22 in 78 for his career. He turns 20 next month, which is nice.

Everton fines Rooney two weeks’ wages

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Wayne Rooney‘s move back to Everton was always going to benefit the Merseyside community, though it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Everton has fined Rooney two weeks’ wages following his admission earlier this week to a drunk driving charge.

[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings ]

According to the BBC, “Everton intend to give the entire sum – thought to be about £300,000 – to local projects through their Everton in the Community scheme.”

At a Monday court date, Rooney learned that he would not be allowed to drive for two years. He was also fined and assigned 100 hours of community service.

Rooney has two goals and an assist in nine appearances, all starts, for the struggling Toffees. He is not in the 18 for Everton’s third round League Cup tie versus Sunderland on Wednesday.

LIVE: Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal enter League Cup

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Five more League Cup third round games take place on Wednesday with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all hosting lower-league opponents.

[ LIVE: Latest League Cup scores ] 

Holders Man United welcome Burton Albion to Old Trafford, while Arsenal host Doncaster Rovers, Chelsea welcome Nottingham Forest to Stamford Bridge, Everton clash with recently relegated Sunderland and Manchester City head to West Brom.

On Tuesday five Premier League teams were knocked out of the competition as Liverpool lost at Leicester City, Stoke were upset at Bristol City, Burnley lost to Leeds United on penalty kicks, Brighton lost at Bournemouth and Huddersfield were knocked out by Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s League Cup roundup ]

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s League Cup games with all games kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.

Click on the link above for live updates on all five games, while the fourth-round draw takes place after the games have finished.


Wednesday’s League Cup schedule

Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers
Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest
Everton vs. Sunderland
Manchester United vs. Burton Albion – 3 p.m. ET
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City – 3 p.m. ET

Men In Blazers podcast: Chelsea-Arsenal, Rooney, Pep

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Arsenal’s draw at Chelsea, Wazza’s return to Old Trafford, and a robotic performance from Pep’s City side. Plus, a musical number at the end.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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