U.S. Open at its best: five third-round matches to watch

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The truly endearing charm of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action is seeing MLS clubs descend upon the smaller grounds of the country’s second- and third-tier leagues.

For example, when the New York Red Bulls travel south along the coast to visit the Charleston Battery, that’s U.S. Open Cup at its romantic, evocative best.

Here are five particularly handsome third-round matches that best highlight the venerable competition’s true charm and soccer delight:

(The complete schedule of third-round matches is here. Of the five matches highlighted, all are May 29 unless otherwise noted:)

Red Bulls at Charleston Battery: Blackbaud Stadium is a 5,000-seat gem of a ground in Charleston, complete with its own English-styled pub. And the pub is sure to be a-rockin’ when the starry Red Bulls come calling.  Hard to say if the brightest of the brights will be in Hans Backe’s lineup, but some of the more familiar names are bound to compete against the Battery, the 2010 USL-2 title winners.

L.A. Galaxy at Carolina Rail Hawks: Things aren’t going well so far this spring for the NASL (domestic soccer’s second tier) side. So the opportunity to take down Major League Soccer’s reigning champs could be the club’s shining 2012 moment. Two of the Galaxy’s three DPs (Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan) are unavailable, but David Beckham should be at Bruce Arena’s disposal. Either way, WakeMed Soccer Park (pictured), with a capacity of around 8,000, will surely be full next week.

Cal FC at Portland Timbers (May 30): Cal FC coach Eric Wynalda has interviewed unsuccessfully twice for MLS coaching posts. So what better way to get that managerial position he seeks than by taking down an MLS soldier at the gate? Cal FC, an amateur side, opened up a proper can of you-know-what on USL Pro’s Wilmington Hammerheads in second-round play Tuesday. On the road, no less, 4-0.

Minnesota Stars at Real Salt Lake: The Minnesota Stars are second in the NASL standings and just dispatched the PDL’s Des Moines Menace in second-round play. Now they travel into Rio Tinto, where few MLS sides have managed much success against the current Western Conference leaders. So, a whuppin’ waitin’ to happen? Well, not so fast. RSL hosts FC Dallas on Saturday, with just two days rest before hosting the Stars. So RSL boss Jason Kreis will surely turn to his bench for the Open Cup match, especially considering captain Kyle Beckerman (and perhaps goalkeeper Nick Rimando) will be with the national team.

D.C. United at Richmond Kickers: United has two U.S. Open Cup trophies (1996 and 2008) and two runner-up medals. So it’s an important competition for the MLS club. But must of the team’s recent Open Cup success has come at home. Now the rules have been tweaked, making it easier for the little guys to host, an equitable and commendable tweak, for sure. So we’ll see how Ben Olsen’s side, playing well in MLS these days, deal with this one.

By the way, that match is almost an “in-state” meeting. There are three third-round contests that do, in fact, feature two clubs from the same state:

  • Dutch Lions at Columbus Crew,
  • Chivas USA at Ventura County Fusion
  • Houston Dynamo at San Antonio Scorpions