For years, a complaint from fans of the New York Red Bulls is that the team did not take the US Open Cup seriously. Sure they won a few games, but never actually seemed into it. According to former coach Mike Petke, he even had to talk players into playing against the New York Cosmos in last year's edition.
This year, the front office promised that the Open Cup was going to be prioritized and be taken seriously. Most of us were skeptical because the history of this team had us believing it was never going to happen. We believed wrong: the team has shown it is actually serious about this through its actions thus far.
Two days ago, RBNY took on the Atlanta Silverbacks of NASL. Normally the team would run out the reserves (and maybe the head coach) and say "go do whatever you want to do." This would be especially true with a MLS match just four days later. Not this year.
Against Atlanta, the team had 9 of 11 regular starters in the Starting XI. Something almost unheard of for Red Bull fans. The only absences were Kemar Lawrence (off on International duty) and Chris Duvall (red carded in 2013 USOC).
So now that RBNY won an early-round USOC game with a strong lineup of players who appeared to actually give a damn, what next? The draw for the Round of 16 and Quaterfinals for the tournament, that's what. This year US Soccer went with a regional setup to limit travel and instituted some rules to help determine who hosts without burdening any team with a home match (emphasis below mine).
- Round of 16 Draw: The first team drawn in each group will be named the host for both the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinal, should the team reach this stage, and placed into the first position in the bracket for its group.
- In the event that the first team drawn only applied to host its Round of 16 game but not the Quarterfinal, this team will be slotted into the second position.
- If this team applied to host the Quarterfinal Round only, it will be entered into the third place.
- If this team didn't apply to host either game, it will be dropped into the fourth slot.
- The remaining teams in the group will be placed in the highest position still available at the time they are drawn, depending on which rounds they applied to host.
What does it mean? In order to host a Round of 16 match, the Red Bulls had to apply to host that round. To host a Quaterfinal match, they would have to apply for both. Well, that's exactly what they did.
Luck played a big part in today's draw as you can see from the video. All four teams in the East Region applied to host both games, so it became a straight draw, and the Red Bulls were selected as the #1 seed in the region. This would have been a bad year not to be interested in hosting a latter-stage USOC game: the 25% chance would have been reduced to 0%. Sometimes, you make your own luck.
So far, the team has shown intent by trotting out a MLS lineup in their first match and applying to host the next set of matches. We still need to see how the team will cope though. Their Round of 16 match against the Cosmos will be their fifth in a 6-game, 19 day-stretch. It's also midweek between a trip to New York City FC and a trip to the Columbus Crew. Squad rotation will be a sticking point for the stretch, and how they come out against the Cosmos will be an indicator of their level of commitment.
Next, their Quarterfinal match (if they advance) is around the same time as the International Champions Cup. The Red Bulls are scheduled to play Chelsea on July 22nd in the ICC. The Quarterfinals of the USOC are set to be played on July 21st or 22nd. When Once a Metro reached out to the team about the conflict, a spokesperson said, "the club has plans in place to go through proper protocol for any potential issues."
It seems that on all fronts, the team is all in on the Open Cup, but time will tell how the taxing summer schedule will affect the drive for their first Open Cup trophy.