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Getting to know the U.S. Open Cup underdogs


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.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.