By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 28, 2023) US Soccer Players – The US Open Cup took the spotlight earlier this week as the venerable tournament conducted the third round of the 2023 edition, the 118th in history. With the bulk of Major League Soccer’s 26 eligible teams entering, it supplied the tournament with the David versus Goliath dynamic that helps make the Open Cup so compelling.
While the Open Cup delivered plenty of drama over two days of matches, David didn’t fare so well against Goliath on the whole. Only two lower-division sides managed to pull off upsets against MLS opponents in 18 such matchups. Penalties undid one chance at a surprise, while late goals played significant roles in others.
Dotted through those lower-division performances on Tuesday and Wednesday were figures with a unique element of their resumes, USMNT experience. One lower division club challenging an MLS opponent had a USMNT legend on the sideline, Hartford Athletic.
Former US international Tab Ramos moved into the coaching ranks when his playing career ended, leading him to spend time with US Soccer and as the head coach of the Houston Dynamo. After leaving Houston following the 2021 season, Ramos took over at Hartford Athletic in the USL Championship last August.
Hartford fell to the New England Revolution 2-1 away on Tuesday in Open Cup play. Hartford leveled the game at 1-1 when Antoine Hoppenot scored seven minutes after halftime, but a Dave Romeny tally in the 76th minute pushed the Revs to the victory. New England head coach Bruce Arena shared some thoughts about his opposite number after the game, suggesting Ramos’s coaching future is back in MLS and calling him “an outstanding coach” in his postgame comments.
“(Ramos) will be a head coach in this league again one day,” Arena said. “He has past experience at the national team level, international level, so he’s an experienced guy. I think the USL is a great opportunity for coaches to move on, polish up their trade, and move on and make their next moves. That’s going to be the case for Tab. He’s going to have other opportunities.”
With goalkeeper Bill Hamid starting, Memphis 901 was one of the two lower-division teams to spring an upset in the third round when it advanced past Atlanta United in an extra-time thriller at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Hamid, with eight caps for the USMNT in his career, was the 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with DC United. Over 13 seasons with DC, he had 80 clean sheets and was a key figure in United’s 2013 US Open Cup title run.
Memphis, in its fifth-year in the USL Championship, is partially owned by former USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard also played for Memphis, appearing six times in league play during the 2020 season.
Hamid needed to make just one save during Wednesday’s dramatic win, though it required an added time equalizer and a 100th-minute winner for Memphis to prevail. Memphis peppered Atlanta United with 30 shots on the night and put ten on target. Atlanta United goalkeeper Clement Diop made eight saves in the loss.
Memphis’s reward for the upset victory is a spot in the round of 32 and a date with the Birmingham Legion in Alabama on May 9th. The clash of USL Championship clubs means that the league is guaranteed a representative in the round of 16 for the sixth consecutive tournament.
For another pair of USMNT vets, the third round wasn’t so kind. Joe Corona collected 23 USMNT caps between 2012 and 2018 and spent time playing for clubs in Liga MX and MLS. He played nearly 200 times for Club Tijuana, the club with which he made his professional debut in 2010. Corona played for Club America, the LA Galaxy, and the Houston Dynamo.
After spending 2022 on loan in Sweden with GIF Sundsvall, Corona returned to the United States for 2023 to sign with San Diego Loyal of the USL Championship. San Diego is another USL club with a strong USMNT connection, with Landon Donovan a part-owner and the club’s executive vice-president of soccer operations after three seasons as head coach. With head coach Nate Miller now on the sideline, San Diego is looking to challenge for a title in the second division competition.
Corona did everything he could to help San Diego spring an upset at Starfire Sports Complex in Washington in Open Cup play against the Seattle Sounders. The midfielder scored twice in a wild 5-4 affair that delivered three goals in extra time, including Fredy Montero’s penalty at 120+3′ to push the Sounders to the victory. It was Corona’s assist on Jackson Simba’s header in the 115th minute that nearly gave San Diego a chance to test the Sounders in a penalty kick shootout.
Attacker Luis Gil’s Union Omaha of USL League One lost 5-1 at St Louis City on Tuesday night. The end of the Open Cup run for Omaha means the club won’t be able to match the thrilling quarterfinal march it made in 2022.
Gil joined Union Omaha in July of 2022 and played 18 games between the regular season and playoffs. Before signing with Omaha, Gil spent time with the Houston Dynamo, Orlando City, and Colorado Rapids of MLS. Originally a product of the Real Salt Lake academy, Gil also played in Mexico with Queretaro and earned two caps with the USMNT.
For Ramos, Corona, and Gil, the end of the road arrived at the first MLS hurdle. The full effort isn’t often enough for lower-division sides, especially playing away from home against higher-level opposition. What Hamid and Memphis did stands out exactly because of that. Memphis 901 now has a chance. As Sacramento proved last year on its run to the final, with that, anything is possible.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Atlanta United