USOC Corner: The Quarterfinal Preview

A look at the “Elite Eight” 2012 US Open Cup Quarterfinalists
by Daniel Casey   |   Monday, June 25, 2012

US Open Cup Corner - 2012 Lamar Hunt USOC

Tuesday, June 26 2012

Harrisburg City Islanders at Philadelphia Union
PPL Park; Chester, Pa.
7:30 p.m. ET

Dayton Dutch Lions at Sporting Kansas City
Livestrong Sporting Park; Kansas City, Kan.
8:30 p.m. ET

Charlotte Eagles at Chivas USA
Titan Stadium (Cal State Fullerton); Fullerton, Calif.
10:30 p.m. ET

Seattle Sounders at San Jose Earthquakes
Kezar Stadium; San Francisco, Calif.
10:30 p.m. ET

The US Open Cup has reached its “Elite Eight” and on Tuesday June 26th the Semi-Finals will be set. This year’s version of the Cup has seen some engaging storylines led by Cal FC; the truly amateur side put together by Eric Wynalda for the sole purpose of playing in the tournament. Although Cal FC made a deep run, they are out of the Cup. But fans took notice, and in the ousting of Peter Nowak from Philadelphia there was a popular push to have Wynalda coach the MLS All-Stars. At last check, Wynalda was leading in an informal poll on the official MLS website with 45% thinking he should lead the MLS All-Stars against Chelsea. This was a poll that Wynalda commented on in his inimitable fashion, “No coach would want this distraction unless it’s some kind of bonus. I would have voted for Vermes to be honest.”

But even with Cal FC out of the Cup there are still some very serious lower division contenders that could cause a real headache for MLS sides. Of the lower divisions, only the USL PRO (Division III) remains represented by the Harrisburg City Islanders, Charlotte Eagles and Dayton Dutch Lions. Each of the three USL PRO teams have collected MLS scalps on their way to the Quarterfinals – Charlotte knocked out FC Dallas, Dayton eliminated Columbus and Harrisburg dismissed both New England and New York.

The Harrisburg City Islanders have quietly gone about giant killing, letting the media rant and rave about Cal FC and its outspoken coach Eric Wynalda. But now it’s the City Islanders’ turn to step into the spotlight.  After up-ending the New England Revolution in an epic match that saw Harrisburg score three goals in added extra time to force a penalty shootout that they subsequently won, Harrisburg chopped down the New York Red Bulls 3-1 in AET. Both of these long-fought wins owed a debt to forward Sainey Touray, who was named the US Open Cup 4th Round Player of the Round. The two goals against New York must have been particularly sweet given that Touray was cut as a trialist by the club.

Touray is having a brilliant tournament; his three goals put him in position to take the tournament goal-scoring lead, even though he has yet to score in league play. Currently, Touray sits alongside Nate Thornton (Charlotte Eagles) and Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders) as the remaining active players with a chance to surpass Brian Shriver of the Carolina Railhawks, who checked out of the tournament with 5 goals. Touray is finding the back of the net, but he is equally able to provide service and stands alongside teammate Jason Pelletier as a serious danger to create goal scoring opportunities. Pelletier and Touray have combined for 7 assists over 10 games in the USL PRO. The main recipient of this duo’s vision has been Yann Ekra who has 5 goals already this season.  Harrisburg has a potent attack and a hardscrabble backline, which means that Philadelphia Union will have serious challengers coming to PPL Park.

Aron Winter was given more time that he ever should have had at Toronto FC. It was enough time to win one more piece of silverware in the Voyageurs Cup, the Canadian Championship, before he inevitably parted ways with Toronto FC. Unfortunately, Peter Nowak was not so lucky this year. In the lead up to this season and over its early stages, it became apparent that Philadelphia Union players wanted a friend and not a manager. Peter Nowak isn’t a mere coach, he isn’t someone who wants to hear how a player ‘feels’; Nowak is one of the few true managers in MLS, or was.

Nowak’s departure puts Philadelphia on its heels as its ownership decides to make the organization a safe, no-pressure environment for the players. I’d like to think that the ‘new energy’ in the Union locker room will lead to some kind of success in Philadelphia, but lack of discipline never leads to winning. Former assistant and now caretaker ‘coach’ John Hackworth’s first match at the helm of the Union in MLS play was a 1-0 loss to DC United—a loss that Union supporters tried desperately to pass off as a ‘win.’ But was this debut any more a win than the Union’s soft-open sans Nowak? The day before Philadelphia announced Nowak’s departure, Hackworth lead the Union to a 3-2 loss in a friendly against Harrisburg; I have my doubts about the Hackworth Era and the Unions chances at success against Harrisburg in this round of the Cup.

Perhaps the worst team in the US Open Cup tournament this year is the Dayton Dutch Lions. Dayton hasn’t yet recorded a league win (0-7-5), and has seen its only success in the tournament. While Dayton has only scored one goal this year on the road in league play, they have scored 6 on the road in the Cup.  In all likelihood, their journey will end when they travel to Livestrong Park to face Sporting Kansas City. Sporting has played through a slight dip in form after their hot start to the season. The fact is Livestrong Park is a fortress this year for Kansas City, where they are 8-1 and have outscored opponents 18-6 over all competitions. Given how spectacularly the Dutch fell out of the Euro 2012 this month, omens don’t foretell a win for the Dayton orange.

The winner of Dayton at Kansas City will face with winner of Harrisburg at Philadelphia. It would be extremely embarrassing for either the Union or Kansas City to lose and not make it to the semi-finals, but of the two Philadelphia is the weakest link.

The Western Conference of MLS has been boasted as the stronger of the two conferences, but of late that assumption needs to be questioned. San Jose hasn’t been impressive in either league play or in the Cup. In the last round, San Jose just skimmed by the Minnesota Stars, current NASL champions, and in league play the Earthquakes have put in shaky performances at best – though they have been without lead goal scorer Chris Wondolowski. Although Seattle has fared little better of late—a thrashing by expansion side Montreal being a league low for the side. Seattle bullied the Cinderella story of the tourney, Cal FC, 5-0, successfully proving that its squad could thrash a Sunday league team. Prior to that victory, they crushed the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks 5-1 after buying out their home draw. The pride Seattle took in these victories was sad and unseemly, they’ll face their first real challenge against San Jose who will be looking to put an end to Seattle’s easy walk to their fourth straight US Open Cup.

Chivas USA has re-tooled itself with new faces, but honestly, the team is still playing the same football – dull and labored. That said, much like Dayton, the Cup has been their one bright spot this season. Chivas picked up road wins against PDL side Ventura County and NASL side Carolina Railhawks to advance. With the exception of a weak ‘bump’ (a 1-0 win over shambling LA Galaxy), the arrivals of Danny Califf and Juan Agudelo have done little to turn around the Goats’ season. They’ll need to look to play for more than a draw against the USL PRO’s Charlotte Eagles. Charlotte has succeeded in eliminating the entire state of Texas (defeating El Paso, FC Dallas, and FC Dallas) to advance to the quarterfinals and could be a sleeper to make it to the semis.

The winner of Seattle at San Jose will face the winner of Charlotte at Chivas USA. Seattle has to be the odds on favorite to advance to the semifinal, and unless Chivas get their act together quickly, the Sounders will be facing Charlotte.

Daniel CASEY

Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.