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"The fans should enjoy this game": FC Motown ready for Rochester Rhinos in US Open Cup

FC Motown head coach Sacir Hot gives his thoughts on his team's US Open Cup second round trip to Rochester Rhinos.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
The second round of the 2017 US Open Cup features four teams from New York and New Jersey. Two of them - New York Cosmos and Rochester Rhinos - are just joining the action. Ocean City Nor'easters won through from the first round. But FC Motown has worked its way to the current phase of the tournament from the first qualifying round back in September, 2016.

It is an achievement for any team to win its way into the main draw of USOC from the qualifying rounds, and an even greater one for that team to stick around in the competition. FC Motown plays in the Garden State Soccer League. It is a team that includes some players with professional experience, playing at the amateur level of the US soccer pyramid. It has come a long way in USOC at its first-ever attempt at the tournament - but it will have done something even more extraordinary if it gets any further.

On May 17, FC Motown plays Rochester Rhinos in the second round of USOC. The Rhinos are a fully professional team - and they won the USL Championship (and regular-season title) as recently as 2015 (their fourth league title since they were founded in 1996). And Rochester has a strong record in USOC: runner-up in 1996, winner in 1999, semifinalist in 2009. The Rhinos are generally a difficult opponent for higher-level teams, and will be expected to brush aside the challenge of an upstart amateur qualifier - not least because the Rhinos will play FC Motown in Rochester.

But Motown has set itself high standards for this tournament and overall. The club draws from the not-insignificant pool of pro-level players in the New Jersey area - and it can have reasonable expectation that the current Cup run will help future efforts to recruit players who want to stay close to a professional standard of play and perhaps take another shot at a career in the game.

Rochester knows the sort of player Motown is capable of recruiting: it signed Christiano Francois in the off-season. The 23-year-old Haitian was briefly on D.C. United's books in 2014 and had a trial with New York Red Bulls II last season. After a stint in Portugal, he's back on the US pro soccer scene - and he enjoyed a little time with Motown before landing his deal with the Rhinos. He is currently Rochester's assists-leader, with two in three appearances so far this season.

FC Motown head coach Sacir Hot is under no illusions about the scale of the task his team is facing in Rochester. The combination of a long journey north and the first full-time professional opponent his side has faced in USOC will challenge Motown's players more than any of their previous outings in the tournament to date.

Once A Metro caught up with Coach Hot to get his view on FC Motown's big game in Rochester:

Once A Metro: There's a familiar face to you and your team in the Rochester squad: Christiano Francois is a former Motown player, I believe (and a former NYRB II trialist). He tortured the Red Bulls II full backs when they were up in Rochester for USL. How is your team feeling about seeing him again, and how do you hope to contain him?

Sacir Hot: As soon as the Lamar Hunt Cup draw came out we were excited to know that we had a shot at visiting our former teammate Christiano Francois up in Rochester. He is a wonderful player, who was the NJ State Player of the Year at legendary St Benedict's High School.  We couldn't be happier that he is torturing USL defenses with his blinding pace and wicked crosses.

The underrated part of Christiano's game is his work rate. We are sure Rochester fans notice that he tracks back and does the dirty work also. Christiano is a wonderful teammate, soccer junkie and only needs health to be a fixture at Rochester. The funny part is that an iconic club like Rochester may have a hard time holding onto him if he keeps this up. I told Christiano though that he must work harder now with this initial taste of success....he gets it.

OAM: What does it mean to a club like FC Motown when players like Francois move on (or back) to the professional game?

SH: Christiano is the eighth player in our brief history to get offered a contract after playing with our club. Imagine Christiano running at GSSL defenses last year with our possession game....we were beating the 2nd best team in the state 8-0 last fall. I think I told Once a Metro that one of the biggest successes a club like FC Motown could have is allowing players to achieve their dreams and sign a professional contract.

Some of our guys have traveled that journey and are fine playing in the GSSL with their friends and getting to showcase their talents in big national cups. That is enough for them and we are very lucky to have them. For others like Christiano, they got spun off the wheel in their soccer journey (for whatever, paper work, a poor system fit etc) and need a place like FC Motown to stay sharp and fit when that chance comes again. Christiano trained with us all winter and was sharp and fit during his Rochester tryout. His talent obviously got him there, but a club like FC Motown plays a vital part in the US soccer ecosystem providing a type of way station for players on their journey.

The other point is that FC Motown churning out pros and playing in high exposure Lamar Hunt games obviously helps with recruitment for the club.

OaM: To the match itself, obviously a tough draw: one of the stronger teams in USL in recent years on its own field. What do you expect to see from Rochester?

SH: Very tough draw as Rochester is 15-0 against amateur teams in the Lamar Open Cup. Rochester is much more likely to beat a MLS team (and they were 1999 US Open Cup Champions) than an amateur club is to upset them. I have watched some Rochester games this year and they have been brilliant at times but did have some valleys. They have a beautiful stadium and a large expansive field (like our home in Morris Plains). Our guys should be comfortable there.

The Rhinos will also be extremely fresh, as they haven't played in two weeks due to a bye and weather in St Louis. Our guys don't have the DNA to pack it in and play a long ball. I will make sure that we have more coverage than usual, but overall the fans should enjoy this game.  

OaM: It has been a busy week for Motown and you had a few injury concerns before your USOC first round game against NJ Copa FC last week, how is the squad holding up fitness-wise?

SH: The Copa game took a lot out of us as it went 120 minutes in front of a big crowd. Our wasteful finishing has officially become a slump. We had a 25-8 shot edge and 16-2 corner edge vs NJ Copa and we were barely troubling the goalie.

We decided to roll out eight new starters for the Lansdowne Bhoys game this weekend in the Fricker Cup semis (effectively giving us our best possible chance in the Lamar Hunt Cup). Lansdowne is an extremely fit and physical team dotted with many former pros. We played a quite even first half before they took over the center of the midfield and had a clear 2-1 win.

Andres [Berriel] and Max [Garcia] made their first starts of the year against Lansdowne. They came out of the game healthy but weren't as sharp as usual, as you would expect. Overall we should be pretty healthy and rested against Rochester. The bus trip will be long, but who is FC Motown to complain with such an opportunity?

OaM: Is it fair to call this the biggest game in Motown's history?

SH: Yes.....but this is more of a house money game as opposed to the Copa one which was an absolute must-win. In the big scheme of things we are a 5th Division Men's team getting to play a 2nd Division power in a 15K seat stadium and on local TV. It really is an amazing success to get to this point (even having players as talented and accomplished as we have).

I really hope our quality comes out so the soccer world can see what we are all about. And if this black cloud of finishing luck lifts...maybe we can accomplish what 15 other amateurs haven't in Western New York.

Once A Metro wishes FC Motown every success in Rochester. Follow the team on Twitter - @fc_motown - and on Facebook.