By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (May 22, 2023) US Soccer Players – The 2023 US Open Cup is down to its final 16 teams with 14 of those representing Major League Soccer. In a tournament where upsets are part of its allure, it’s still an MLS team likely to win it all in the end.
For some teams, the US Open Cup is a chance at building momentum after a slow start to the MLS season. This year’s round of 16 features a mix of games, with our focus on MLS clubs that could use their Open Cup opportunities to help push forward in the league. Here are our choices of four of those games to follow.
LAFC vs LA Galaxy
The biggest matchup is the LA derby on Tuesday with LAFC hosting the Galaxy at BMO Stadium. For the Galaxy, this is more than a rivalry game as the club looks for momentum with a 2-3-8 start to the MLS season. The defending MLS Cup winners LAFC are first in the Western Conference, while the Galaxy are last.
The match marks the 19th time the sides will meet across all competitions. Present problems aside, the Galaxy lead the all-time series 7-6-5. The Galaxy and LAFC have met only once in the US Open Cup in a Round of 16 clash last year that the Galaxy won 3-1 at home.
LAFC got the better of the Galaxy in their sole meeting so far this year, a 3-2 win on April 16 powered by a Carlos Vela brace and the winning goal in the 70th minute by Ryan Hollingshead. The Galaxy lost 3-0 at DC United on Saturday, marked by a late-game breakdown that saw LA give up those three goals in a span of just nine minutes.
After the game, Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond told reporters: “We’ve had a good reaction up until this road trip. We obviously got through in the Open Cup. … There’s obviously pros and cons to maybe having a clear week leading into a weekend game, but there’s also obviously a pro having a game so quickly (on Tuesday) to put it right and a win against LAFC can really kick start something for us I think.”
NY Red Bulls vs FC Cincinnati
New York’s recent form under coach Troy Lesesne has them on a four-game winning streak across all competitions. That includes knocking out DC United in the previous round of the Open Cup. Still, they’re hosting the team that’s 1st in the Eastern Conference, one they haven’t played so far this season.
“I think we want to keep building on it,” Red Bulls captain Sean Nealis said following Saturday’s 2-1 win at home against Montreal CF. “We have another game against Cincinnati in the Open Cup this week. The guys fought (on Saturday night) from the start and I think they’re up for the challenge.”
With Cincinnati coming off of a derby win over Columbus, they’re on a three-game win streak in MLS, losing only once so far this season. Cincinnati advanced past NYCFC in the round of 32, winning 1-0 at home.
Austin FC vs Chicago Fire
Chicago, who are 3-6-4 in MLS, played Atlanta United FC to a 3-3 thriller this past Saturday, a positive sign for a Fire team in need of points. The draw also extended the unbeaten run at home to eight matches. Wednesday is a chance to show what they can do on the road in the Open Cup, taking on Austin FC. It was only fitting that Frank Klopas’s first game after returning as Fire coach came in the US Open Cup on May 10, eliminating St Louis City following a 2-1 home win, since he helped Chicago win the MLS and US Open Cup double during the team’s debut season in 1998.
“Yeah, especially with Frank who has experience in that Cup tells us that it’s really, really important for the club and for ourselves,” Chicago midfielder Maren Haile-Selassie said following the draw with Atlanta. “And I think in every competition that you play, you want to go as far as you can and the next step is on Wednesday.”
9th-place Austin FC is off to a 4-4-5 start but has shown recent improvement with back-to-back wins at Seattle and home against Toronto. They made it to the round of 16 with a 2-0 home win over USL Championship club New Mexico United.
Colorado vs Real Salt Lake
12th-place Colorado, with an MLS record of 2-6-6, hosts 11th-place Real Salt Lake this Wednesday in the US Open Cup. RSL, three points ahead, is also another one of those teams looking to re-awaken their season after amassing a 4-3-6 record in MLS. This one bookends the league meeting between the two teams on Saturday, where Colorado lost 3-2 at home to Real Salt Lake.
“I think it’s unusual to play the same team in the same venue twice this quickly,” Real Salt Lake coach Pablo Mastroeni said after the road win. “I think everything Colorado did tonight, we were anticipating. Again, well coached team, (Rapids coach) Robin (Fraser) does a great job with the guys. I think they execute their plan. So for me, it’s really about going back and thinking about how it’s not just for this game, but for the next few games. And how we put out a group that has the same type of mentality that the guys had tonight.”
This could very well be one of the most exciting rounds of 16 the US Open Cup has seen in quite some time just because so many of the teams still remaining in this tournament could use the win. Obviously, a trophy remains on the line for the teams who advance. In some cases, it’s also the chance to revitalize a regular season.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
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Photo by Chicago Fire FC