Fourth round U.S. Open Cup: Where the wild games are

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Fourth-round play unfolds tonight in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup; eight matches will decide who moves into the June 26 quarterfinals.

Half of the set involve MLS clubs against lower-tier sides. The other four contests are MLS-vs.-MLS meetings, and they surely matter to fans, media, players and officials involved. But if we’re honest, it’s the chance to witness the next storybook upset that drives a growing (slowly, but surely) Open Cup awareness.

If you want to know more (much, much more in fact), go to this extensive stack of Open Cup knowledge of tonight’s contests.

Or for the shorter version, here are the potential upsets – and the potential upset factor really is what this dandy darling of a tournament is all about:

Chivas USA (MLS) at Carolina RailHawks (NASL)

at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

Carolina eliminated the L.A. Galaxy in this very complex last week. (A crowd of almost 8,000 packed the fantastic little Cary complex.) Can the Railhawks, who aren’t having a great time of it in NASL, toss another Home Depot Center tenant overboard? For Chivas, this tournament is easily its best hope for a CONCACAF Champions League spot, and best chance to make a mark on domestic soccer in 2012.

Red Bull New York (MLS) at Harrisburg City Islanders (USL PRO)

at Skyline Sports Complex; Harrisburg, Penn.

What an amazing comeback in third-round action for Harrisburg, as the Islanders rallied from a 3-0 second-half deficit to eliminate New England from Major League Soccer in penalty kicks. Harrisburg competes in USL Pro, the officially sanctioned third tier of U.S. Soccer. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, won’t have Thierry Henry, but will have a renewed interest in tournament success.

Minnesota Stars FC (NASL) at San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)

at Cagan Stadium, Stanford, Calif.

The Stars, still atop the standings in American soccer’s second tier, manufactured a real stunner in the third round by going into Utah to take down MLS Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake. This one will be just as tough; San Jose is 4-1-2 in league games at home this year (although they’ve shifted tonight’s match to the Stanford University campus, away from Buck Shaw Stadium.) The Stars rested several starters in Saturday’s draw at San Antonio in NASL action. The Earthquakes were idle over the weekend, so coach Frank Yallop should have no problems deploying his top squad, too.

Cal FC (USASA) at Seattle Sounders (MLS)

At Starfire Sports Complex; Tukwila, Wash.

This is the biggie; it’s on Fox Soccer Channel at 10 p.m. ET. Cal FC, coached by former U.S. international and current FSC analyst Eric Wynalda, took down Portland last week in one that we’ll all be talking about for some time. It was the quintessential Open Cup moment, an amateur team going into a real lions’ den and coming out alive on the other side.

We’ll have more on this one later.