Getting to know the U.S. Open Cup underdogs

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Tonight, four amateur teams will begin their improbable journey to the U.S. Open Cup final.

Okay, so maybe they won’t get that far… but who says they can’t emulate Cal FC’s fairytale run in 2012?

So it’s only fair that we take the time out to salute them for their journey so far, and get to know a little bit about them.

Four teams have advanced from the regional tournaments, hosted by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA), and find themselves in action tonight as the first-round proper of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup begins.

17 games will kick off across the country this evening, as the Open Cup celebrates 100 years as a competition. If you want to check in on all the latest scores, use the hashtag #USOC100 on Twitter to keep up to date with all the games.

Now let’s take a look at these minnows looking to create a splash:

Winning the USASA Region III, the North Texas Rayados are certainly making a name for themselves. The club was only founded in 2011 but two straight trips to the Open Cup has seen their stock rise dramatically. The team was set up by two players from Richland College in Dallas, and several of the originals still remain. NTX Rayados face the Austin Aztex of the PDL with a home-game against USL Pro outfit Wilmington Hammerheads the prize if they reach the second round.

Another amateur side hoping to make it to the second round is Mass Premier Soccer. The Massachusetts side have former New England Revolution defender Sam Brill on their squad, after the BC product spent time playing professionally in Germany and Sweden after college. The plethora of top college programs in the area allows MPS to attract plenty of talented players. At the moment they boast players from Harvard, Dartmouth, BC, Northeastern, PC, Williams, and Middlebury. MPS face GPS Portland Phoenix tonight at 8pm to battle it out for a spot in the second round.

A huge task awaits Doxa Italia tonight, as they take on the Seattle Sounders U-23 side. Former New England player Bryan Byrne is the player-manager of the Manhattan Beach, Calif. based club. The team went undefeated during their 2012 league season, which included beating local rivals Cal FC, who of course, we all know about after their improbable run to the fourth round last season. Doxa will be hoping to emulate that success this season.

Finally, the last remaining USASA side in Open Cup action is Dearborn Stars. They became just the third team from the Michigan Soccer Association to qualify for the Open Cup in the modern era, following Detroit clubs Chaldean Arsenal and Detroit United. They qualified from Region II amongst much confusion, after games were cancelled, non-regulation pitches were used and plenty of off-field drama ensued. Hamoody Saad (the brother of Sporting KC striker Soony Saad) is a star up front and plenty of other talented attackers adorn Dearborn’s ranks. They face perhaps the toughest task of all against the Michigan Bucks, the only amateur team to beat two MLS sides in their history.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions.

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.