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NASL weekend preview: Edmonton, NY Cosmos not budging in title battle

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Carolina and Minnesota picked up big wins in pursuit the playoffs, while New York and Edmonton nabbed ties to inch closer to the postseason themselves last weekend.

To reset: Indy Eleven is going to the playoffs based on winning the Spring Season title. The Fall Season winner will also go, and the New York Cosmos leads FC Edmonton by three points for that honor, but have played two more matches than the Eddies.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan confirms return ]

The other two slots go to wild card teams, who earn the honor by being the two highest-ranking non-title winning teams in the combined season table. One of those seems destined to the Edmonton or New York, and right now it looks like it’ll be either Minnesota United and Carolina for the final slot.

United sits fourth in the combined table now with 39 points and has been buoyed by talisman Christian Ramirez, who is on pace for another NASL Golden Boot (Read about his USMNT ambitions in this week’s feature here).

But Carolina has played two fewer games, and can make up six of its seven-point deficit by winning those matches-in-hand.

On Saturday night, the Railhawks host an Ottawa team that hasn’t won in ages and stand a good chance to keep the pressure on United. Minnesota has to travel to New York to face the first place Cosmos, a challenging task.

NASL weekend schedule
Indy Eleven at Fort Lauderdale — 7 p.m. EDT Saturday
Minnesota United at New York Cosmos — 7 p.m. EDT Saturday
Ottawa Fury at Carolina Railhawks — 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday
Tampa Bay Rowdies at Puerto Rico FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday
Miami FC at FC Edmonton — 4 p.m. EDT Sunday
Jacksonville Armada at Rayo OKC — 8 p.m. EDT Sunday

U.S. Open Cup recap: Portland, home teams advance to semifinals

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The Portland Timbers are into the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, now without a loss in 110 days after their 3-2 win Sunday night in Dallas. Thanks to second half goals from Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Frederic Piquionne, Major League Soccer’s Western Conference co-leaders clinched their first semifinal birth, with goals from Je-Vaughn Watson and Blas Pérez not enough to keep Schellas Hyndman’s team in the competition.

Wednesday wins by Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, and the Chicago Fire make for an all MLS semifinal, with Chicago to host D.C. on one half of the bracket, RSL welcoming Portland on the other.

Portland three goals came in an 11-minute span of the second half, with the Timbers getting their first ever Texas win thanks in large part of a goal and an assist from Darlington Nagbe. His 61st minute equalize came two minutes before assisting on Valeri’s go-ahead tally, with Piquionne’s fifth goal of the tournament taking advantage of a Walker Zimmerman error for the eventual game-winner.

The Timbers’ victory sets up an August matchup with the Western Conference’s other leaders, with Real Salt Lake rolling to a 3-0 win over the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks. Tony Beltran’s first half bomb (25-26 yards) broke through a conservative RailHawk setup and sent the home side into half time up one, with second half scores from Chris Wingert and Alvaro Saborio continuing RSL’s quest for their first U.S. Open Cup title.

In the other half of the bracket, D.C. United started the night with a 3-1 win over the New England Revolution, with second half goals from Dwayne De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy breaking a deadlock formed after Juan Carlos Toja equalized Chris Pontius’s late first half opener.

Pontius opened the scoring in with a clean up goal after a half of D.C. dominance before Toja pulled the Revolution even with a free kick. Playing with Pontius for the first time this season, De Rosario headed home his fourth goal of the competition before Pajoy converted from the spot to give D.C. a two-goal win.

United will travel to Chicago in the semifinals, with the Fire ending the Cinderella run of third division Orlando City SC with a 5-1 win.  The USL PRO side had brief hope when a second half goal from Rob Valentino pulled back Chris Rolfe’s sixth minute opener. A bit of flash from Patrick Nyarko killed the visitor’s mounting momentum, with a follow-up goal from Rolfe putting the home side up two just after the hour mark.

The match’s final half hour featured two Orlando red cards (Yann Songo’o, Adama Mbenge) along with goals by Mike Magee and Joel Lindpere.

Are you ready for U.S. Open Cup upsets?

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If you love Open Cup upsets, tonight could be the night for you.

With just eight teams left in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Orlando City and the Carolina RailHawks are aiming to knock MLS sides out of the historic competition and snag a spot in the semifinals.

Orlando City of the USL Pro travel to the Chicago Fire, having already knocked out holders Sporting Kansas City in the last round. While NASL table-toppers Carolina travel to Real Salt Lake, after beating the LA Galaxy on their way to a quarterfinal berth.

But can both sides prosper this evening? Of course they can.

In fact history is actually on their side. The Cup.US released this piece which looks back at the shocks from lower-league teams in past Open Cup quarterfinals and plenty of MLS sides have been ousted at this stage of the competition.

(MORE: Orlando City dumps reigning champs Sporting KC out of Open Cup)

Plenty of people expect Orlando City to go all the way this season, and why not. The USL Pro outfit are top of their league, are consistently drawing huge crowds, they have a plethora of MLS players on loan from Sporting KC and Orlando have shown just how good they are on the pitch.

Although their opponents tonight, Chicago, have finally got their season up and running in recent weeks with Mike Magee leading the charge since his arrival from LA. This evening will be Orlando’s toughest test as they face the Fire away from home.

(MORE: US Open Cup fourth round wrap – five more MLS teams knocked out)

However the carrot dangling in front of both Orlando and the RailHawks is that id they win they’ll both have home games in the semifinals. So could we have a non-MLS Open Cup final for the first time since Major League Soccer was formed in 1996? That would be something special for the Centennial.

I love this competition, readers of this blog will know that. I love MLS too, but boy, I am hoping for some big upsets tonight. Some say that Orlando City knocking off yet another MLS side won’t be too big of a surprise but I think defeating Chicago on their own patch will take some doing.

Stranger things have happened. Here is the full schedule for tonight’s Open Cup quarterfinals, don’t forget you can check what is happening on Twitter by using the hashtag #USOC100. Enjoy.

OPEN CUP QUARTERFINALS

D.C. UNITED vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (Wednesday, 7 pm ET)

CHICAGO FIRE vs. ORLANDO CITY (Wednesday, 8:30 pm ET)

FC DALLAS vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS (Wednesday, 9 pm ET)

REAL SALT LAKE vs. CAROLINA RAILHAWKS (Wednesday, 9:30 pm ET)

US Open Cup fourth round wrapup – five more MLS teams tumble out

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The fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is now complete, and there are still some Cinderella stories left as it moves to the quarterfinals.

The most recent round wasn’t fully complete until this afternoon when the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew played after kickoff Wednesday was postponed 16-1/2 hours due to inclement weather.

Now, the quarterfinals are set without last year’s defending champions, and with two lower division teams still in the mix, it’s sure to give us an intriguing finish.

Sporting KC 0-1 Orlando FC

With their second straight MLS upset, the Lions have officially burst onto the scene in the U.S. Open Cup. They shocked their MLS affiliate and defending Cup champions Sporting KC with a quick-fire 2nd minute goal by Chinese striker Long Tan.

The goal, conceded after a turnover in their own half by Kansas City, was dubbed by KC manager Peter Vermes as “a terrible mistake.”

After going 1 up, Orlando dropped back and played solely on the counter-attack.  Despite just two shots in the first half, Orlando was actually unlucky not to be up 2-0 at halftime.  Tan had a close-range effort agonizingly saved by Eric Kronberg.

Orlando, currently sitting in first place in the USL Pro, will look to be just the second non-MLS team to win the Cup since MLS teams entered in 1996.  They were also the only away side to win in this round of play.

D.C. United 3-1 Philadelphia Union

Dwayne de Rosario decided he’d seen enough of the MLS standings.  Despite sitting in last place, a hat-trick from de Rosario sent the Black-and-Red on to the quarterfinals.

A goal from red-hot youngster Jack McInerney wasn’t nearly enough for Philadelphia as they get a taste of their own medicine.  The Union defeated D.C. United in the same round and venue during the competition last season.  Unfortunately for United, they did lose Chris Pontius in the process, after he took two blows to the head in the span of a few minutes and was subbed off at halftime.

You can watch de Rosario’s hat trick, plus a horribly awkward postgame interview, here.

Chicago Fire 2-1 Columbus Crew

It was a horror night for Columbus, as not only were they knocked out of the Cup despite leading 1-0 early, but they also may have lost Brazilian central defender Glauber for an extended period of time.

The 29-year-old, who was only recently acquired in January, left in just the 9th minute with a knee injury.  The extent of the injury is not known, but with Eddie Gaven already having blown out his ACL in the previous Cup match, it’s fingers crossed for Crew fans.

The one positive for Columbus is Konrad Warzycha’s header goal in the 22nd minute marks the first time father and son have scored in the U.S. Open Cup, following in the footsteps of Crew head coach Robert Warzycha.  Unfortunately, the red-hot Mike Magee responded just six minutes later to equalize, and then Patrick Nyarko provided the winner for Chicago in the 78th minute.

Real Salt Lake 5-2 Charleston Battery

You wouldn’t know it by the scoreline, but this match actually went to extra time.  Having already defeated San Jose in the previous round, Charleston found themselves 2-0 up on Real Salt Lake just 18 minutes in and could taste another upset.  Unfortunately, the #2 team in the West realized what was happening and turned on the afterburners.

Devon Sandoval opened the scoring for the MLS side in the 66th minute, and Joao Plata converted a penalty 12 minutes later to equalize. Extra time saw Sandoval’s second 7 minutes in for the winner, and Salt Lake added two more for insurance against the exhausted Battery.

Carolina Railhawks 3-1 Chivas USA

Things are going from bad to worse for Chivas USA, as extra time proved deadly to the MLS side and gave Carolina their second straight upset win, having already slid past L.A. Galaxy in the competition.

Cesar Elizondo and Brian Ackley both netted in the extra period to give the NASL club the quarterfinals berth.  It was hot in North Carolina, but the sides were hot-headed as well, as seven yellow cards were handed out in the match.

In an odd bit of news, new Chivas manager Jose Luis Real was in attendance for the match, but did not coach.  Instead, Sascha van der Most continued his interim coaching duties.

New England Revolution 4-2 New York Red Bulls

The Revs continued their season revival by thrashing the Red Bulls in their first home match in the Cup in four years.  New England went ahead after just four minutes as Kelyn Rowe scored the first of his brace, and they kept scoring all the way until their fourth in the 87th minute.

New England are on a vicious run, unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions, and they’ve outscored their opponents 19-4 during that span.

Dallas FC 3-0 Houston Dynamo

The “Texas Derby” found its way into the U.S. Open Cup, and MLS leaders in points didn’t disappoint.  Kenny Cooper’s brace gives him five goals on the year for Dallas in all competitions, and they both came off set pieces taken by Brazilian midfielder Michel.

That sounds really familiar….oh right, that’s exactly what happened when the two clubs met in the league back in March.  Dallas have an MLS match on Saturday, but played a pretty full-strength lineup anyways, only missing international call-ups Raul Fernandez and Blas Perez, plus David Ferreira sat.

Portland Timbers 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Portland proved the only MLS team to easily put away their lower division opponents in the fourth round.  Tampa Bay had already defeated Seattle in the previous round, but Portland went ahead early in the ninth minute via Michael Nanchoff and never looked back.

It’s Portland’s first ever visit to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.

Quarterfinal matchups:

New England Revolution at D.C. United
Orlando City at Chicago Fire
Carolina Railhawks at Real Salt Lake
Portland Timbers at FC Dallas

Quick primer on tonight’s U.S. Open Cup matches

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All eight matches in fourth-round play of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are set for tonight. Here’s what you need to know, starting with the basic schedule (courtesy of a screen grab from U.S. Soccer):

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The lowdown on tier-vs.-tier: What makes the Open Cup so great is the upset potential, which naturally dwindles as the rounds progress. As such, only four of tonight’s eight matches feature the lower tier sides vs. MLS clubs.

“Low” men standing: Orlando City and the Charleston Battery are part of the USL Pro league, domestic soccer’s officially sanctioned third tier. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Carolina Railhawks are NASL clubs, soccer’s second tier. The other eight clubs are from Major League Soccer, the country’s top tier.

Learning more: As always, THE spot to go for U.S. Open Cup greatness is TheCup.US. Included in the goodies are where to find the streams for tonight’s matches.

Get your history on!: Here’s a good piece on the last underdog to claim the U.S. Open Cup.

The top potential for upset: The Carolina Railhawks have already dispatched Major League Soccer’s champions, the LA Galaxy, which had dispatched a reserve squad for the teams’ third round match. Now, in the very same ground in Cary, N.C., the Railhawks have a chance to send another team back to Southern California in a heap of disappointment. Chivas USA visits Carolina, and we can’t even be certain all the best Goats’ players will be available.

There is a great match preview here from The Goat Parade.

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The local derbies: League-leading FC Dallas meets Houston in North Texas. It’s a sticky one for Schellas Hydman’s FCD because of a big match just three nights later.  Houston, with this weekend off, is more free to play its best lineup.

Meanwhile, New York and New England meet at Harvard’s Soccer Field, putting a Cup spin on their rivalry. And they are playing in the city! In an intimate venue, and here’s why. Not that anybody needs to explain; we love smaller venues for Open Cup matches.

Speaking of smaller venues …: Too bad only one of the lower tier sides will host tonight. But the WakeMed Soccer Park (pictured at right) does have that Open Cup feel, doesn’t it.

The controversy: Yes, controversy! Well, a little of it.

Dom Dwyer is under contract for Sporting Kansas City, a 22-year-old English striker who has done so well on loan this year for the Orlando City Lions. As those teams happen to be playing, and as Orlando is a Kansas City affiliate, the players aren’t being allowed to participate tonight at Sporting Park. Dwyer is one of four such SKC loanees who are benched for this one.