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US Open Cup second round to determine Red Bulls’ lower division opponent

Motown, Lansdowne, and Hartford lead the Tri-State charge to face top flight clubs in national cup

FC Motown forward Dilly Duka lines up for a free kick against West Chester United SC during the 2022 US Open Cup
Photo by Peter Bonilla

Finally, after two long years the U.S. Open Cup has COME BACK to our humble Tri State Area. The 107th edition of the United States national knockout competition began last month following two cancellations. After an exciting opening slate, this week’s Second Round will see amateur teams face off against lower division professional teams.

More importantly, one of these winners will face the New York Red Bulls between April 19–21. Unlike in previous U.S. Open Cup tournaments, Major League Soccer teams must face a lower division team in the round they enter in.

For the uninitiated, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the United States’ national knockout soccer tournament. It’s open to teams at every level of the country’s soccer pyramid and every professional team takes part (unless they get kicked out just before the deadline). The competition is divided into rounds with each round bringing in higher division teams. For example; the First Round featured amateur teams from both local and national leagues. The Second Round will see professional teams from the third and second divisions leagues enter. It’s single elimination and last team standing wins the cup, $300,000, and a spot in the following year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

The Red Bulls will enter in the Third Round along with most of the other Major League Soccer teams. Following this week’s games, U.S. Soccer will conduct a regional blind draw on Friday, April 8, to determine the Round 3 games.

For the teams competing from New York and New Jersey, this might be the biggest game in their history. Two of the professional teams are playing in their first ever US Open Cup match. A loss against an amateur outfit could be difficult to move past. On the other side, the open division squads are one win away from making history. The chance to play, possibly host, a Major League Soccer team is a real possibility if they win this week.

All the games mentioned below will be broadcast on ESPN Plus.

Wednesday, April 6

FC Motown (NPSL) vs AC Syracuse Pulse (NISA)

ESPN+ Link, kickoff at 7 P.M. at MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field (Montclair, NJ)

FC Motown had the distinct honor of both opening and closing the First Round of the 2022 tournament. Originally, the team fell to Pennsylvania powerhouse West Chester United SC, 3-2 in extra time, on March 22. However, a protest was upheld after it was found United used an illegal substitute during the match. The Morristown, NJ side went on to win the replay last Friday, 1-0.

The closest team to Harrison, NJ, Motown’s deep connection to the Bulls is one reason why it’s a top team in the National Premier Soccer League. The team is coached by former Red Bulls Homegrown Šaćir Hot (who coincidentally debuted in the 2011 USOC). Ahead of its fourth Open Cup appearance Celtic have bolstered their roster. Case in point, former RBNY player and Ghanian international Gideon Baah signed with the team after last playing in Kazakhstan. While he might be the biggest name, he’s not the only one. Former Red Bulls II reserve players Mike da Fonte and Joseph Fala are both regular starters. The team’s biggest weapon, however, is winger and former Haiti Under-23 Nerlin Saint-Vil. His speed and experience playing in the Caribbean professional ranks have made him a tall order for most defenders that face him.

FC Motown players, wearing shirts to honor their teammate Sainclair Tueno, pose for a team photo ahead of their Round 1 Replay against West Chester United SC
Photo by Peter Bonilla

I’ve also mentioned this before but it bears repeating. In 2018, Saint-Vil played in both legs of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 series with Dominican Republic side Atlético Pantoja. Those games were against the Red Bulls.

Unfortunately, Motown has also been in the news recently for another reason. Sainclair Tueno has been a regular fixture in the group for the past four years. However the defender was involved in an accident last month following the original USOC game versus West Chester. After being struck by a car near Pittsburgh, Tueno has since been in a coma and on life support. His family and teammates have been keeping him in their thoughts while also raising money to help with medical costs.

On the other side of this match is a debuting professional outfit from central New York. AC Syracuse Pulse is hard to talk about. After being announced in May 2021, the team was officially accepted into the third division National Independent Soccer Association in late October. It only officially announced its roster two days before its first game and it has already had a rebrand. That included adding on the “Pulse” nickname and dropping a new logo after the first one looked like it was made in MS Paint.

Syracuse played its inaugural game on Saturday, March 26 against Flower City Union (another debuting NISA team out of Rochester, NY). Overall the team looked organized with former USL League One player Kaleb Jackson scoring the game winner in the 48th minute. Macklin Robinson, a former New York Cosmos B player from the NPSL, earned a clean sheet against Flower City with the Pulse winning, 1-0.

Talent wise, the biggest threats are Jackson, midfielder Michael Kafari, and forward Alex Satrustegui. All three have NISA pedigree with Kafari finding success with previous league champion Detroit City FC. The rest of the roster is a usual mix of locals and semi-pros - so it’s really hard to see what that entails. What can’t be overlooked though is the man on the sidelines; Peter Fuller. The former head coach of Chattanooga FC joined Syracuse last month ahead of the 2022 season. Fuller saw the successful transition of Chattanooga into a professional team in 2020 and previously served on the coaching staffs of both the New England Revolution (reserve team) and Philadelphia Union.

Thursday, April 7

Rochester New York FC (MLSNP) vs Lansdowne Yonkers FC (EPSL)

ESPN+ Link, kickoff at 4 P.M. at John L. DiMarco Field at Monroe Community College (Brighton, NY)

Lansdowne Yonkers FC and Rochester New York FC have previously met in the tournament. This game is actually a rematch of a 2016 US Open Cup Third Round contest that saw a group of Bhoys battle bravely but ultimately fall to a stampede of Rhinos. What’s even more interesting is how different each team’s path has been since that game six years ago.

The last year has been historic for Lansdowne Yonkers. The team had a 480 day undefeated streak across all competitions, including league and nation, up until mid-March this year. As defending National Amateur Cup champions, Lansdowne automatically qualified for its third ever tournament before any other amateur team. In that time, despite losing a few players to the professional side, head coach Sean Kelly has led a team with both aspirations and pro experience. Some like Daryl Kavanagh, Dean Dillon, and Shamir Mullings have previously played across the English professional system including multiple FA Cup runs. The coach himself is even a Arsenal Academy product with a long resume.

Lansdowne Yonkers FC striker Shamir Mullings celebrates scoring a tying goal against the Ocean City Nor’easters in the First Round of the 2022 US Open Cup.
Photo by Peter Bonilla

To get here, Yonkers defeated USL League Two side Ocean City Nor’easters in the First Round. Mullings tied the game early in the first half before both teams needed penalty kicks to decide the 1-1 deadlock. The lone shootout of the round had the New York state squad advance, 4-3. In all of Yonkers’ tournament appearances it won at least one game each time (with the two previous runs under the name Lansdowne Bhoys FC). The 2016 campaign even saw them defeat USL team Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on the road in the Second Round.

For Rochester, it’s hard to know what this group even is. The team formerly known as the Rochester Rhinos have only recently re-appeared in competitive soccer. Following the 2017 United Soccer League season the team went on hiatus citing financial strains. Years followed with talk of joining USL League One but that never materialized. Instead, in mid-2021 Leicester City and England national team striker Jamie Vardy was announced as new co-owner for the team. What followed soon after was a complete rebrand. The Rhinos lost their horns and soon joined MLS Next Pro.

As the lone independent pro side in the league for 2022, Rochester’s talent pipeline isn’t as open as the Major League Soccer orgs. That doesn’t mean the team is a pushover though. Midfielder Ed Williams became the first player to be loaned to the team from the English Football League in its 27 year history. Defender Lamar Batista has made rounds across MLS and USL since 2017. The center back spent last year on loan with the OKC Energy and made 15 appearances. So far, the only goal scorer for Rochester is Dante Brigida. The former Oral Roberts University forward earned All-League and All-Region honors in the Summit League during his five seasons.

RNYFC has lost its first two matches in MLSNP this season. St Louis CITY2 won, 2-0, in the league’s first-ever match. Last weekend, Rochester fell again to New England Revolution II, 3-1, at Gillette Stadium. If you saw stadium staff putting up USL League One signs after RBNY’s late win vs the Revs on Saturday, this is why.

Unlike every other team discussed in this piece, Rochester has previously played the New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup. Their first meeting in 2005’s Fourth Round ended with the ‘Raging’ Rhinos stomping the MetroStars, 3-1, in Western New York. The rematch over a decade later in 2016 was far more competitive. Coming off their win against Lansdowne, Rochester was unable to overcome a 20th minute Sacha Kljestan penalty kick and lost, 1-0, in the Fourth Round. A possible rubber match between the two teams could be on the table if the draw pans out.

In all, there’s a bit of irony in this match-up. Rochester, the only non-MLS team to win the US Open Cup since 1996, isn’t the same club it used to be. The team who coined the moniker “if you can’t join them, beat them” after failing to get into MLS has joined that league’s new reserve league. Meanwhile since its loss in 2016 Lansdowne has become the standard bearer for amateur soccer success. Countless titles, a youth program, and thriving at its own level - all in half a decade. These two teams have been on drastically different paths since their last meeting. But time really is a flat circle and destiny has decided both shall clash once again.

Hartford Athletic (USL-C) vs Oyster Bay United FC (UPSL)

ESPN+ Link, kickoff at 7 P.M. at Trinity Health Stadium (Hartford, CT)

Despite only being separated by the Long Island sound, Hartford Athletic and Oyster Bay United FC are the local pairing farthest apart in terms of pyramid placement. One has quietly been building itself as a championship contender since its launch in 2019. The other only started playing officially last summer.

Oyster Bay United FC are playing with house money at this point. The team that launched in mid-2021 has already outdone its own expectations. It finished second in the United Premier Soccer League’s UPSL American Premier Division during the Fall 2021 season. In the playoffs head coach Josue Esqueche and his group reached the divisional championship game before falling, 1-0, to New Jersey Alliance FC.

Oyster Bay had to go through Open Cup qualifying to get to this point. It defeated multi-time tournament champions New York Greek Americans and New York Pancyprian Freedoms in consecutive rounds. A final win, 4-1, over league rival Westchester United FC punched the team’s ticket into the competition.

In the opening round of the tournament, OBU dominated NPSL side Hartford City FC with three first half goals. Forward Junior Rosero scored the opening goal and assisted on his team’s next two in an MVP performance. Despite a quiet second half, the locals still advanced 3-0.

Their opponent Hartford Athletic is the only second division team playing locally this round. After four seasons in the USL Championship Athletic has grown substantially, almost quietly. The team that finished its inaugural 2019 season in the basement of the Eastern Conference is now a quasi-playoff contender. Players like captain Danny Barrera and Juan Carlos Obregón Jr. have had career resurgences in Hartford while the rest of the roster has a lot of young talent.

All of this praise, however, might be overlooking how 2022 has started in Connecticut. Athletic is 0-1-2 after three games. An 1-1 draw against powerhouse Tampa Bay Rowdies is the only shining point. Even then, it’s bookended with losses against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and lowly Atlanta United 2. Goalkeeper Austin Pack had a tall task when he needed to replace the departing Jeff Caldwell, a league leader in saves and clean sheets. Instead he’s struggled and his backline hasn’t been doing him any favors.

A win would put Hartford in line for a match against an MLS club for the first time. Their only other USOC appearance in 2019 ended in the Third Round against a fellow USL-C team. While they beat New York Cosmos B in that run, they seem destined to play a Division 1 squad from New York City at some point.

The Draw: Who Faces RBNY?

As some readers may have noticed, there’s six teams here that are all relatively close to Harrison. Only one of three winners can actually play the Red Bulls. That team is decided by a regional draw.

The Second Round winners and the 17 Major League Teams entering in Round 3 will be grouped geographically into groups of four (12 groups) or six (eight groups). The MLS teams will be spread among the groups as evenly as possible with:

  • Groups of four teams
  • Five groups with two MLS teams
  • Seven groups with one MLS team
  • Groups of six teams
  • One group with three MLS teams
  • Seven groups with two MLS teams

Random selection for each group will determine the Third Round matchups. Instances where geographical fit doesn’t exist when creating groups will be resolved by random selection.

Considering both the New England Revolution and NYCFC are entering in the Fourth Round (based on their performance last season in MLS), that makes it tricky to group this region. The winners from the three games above and the winner of Western Mass Pioneers (USL-2) vs Flower City Union (NISA) all share RBNY as the closest MLS team. Those four winners and the Bulls make five teams - and there are no five team groups.

From my own understanding, that leaves two options:

  • One of the lower division teams (probably a Rochester winner if possible) gets pulled into another region, leaving the northeast group as a Group of Four
  • Either DC United or an Ohio MLS team get pulled into RBNY’s group, making it a Group of Six

This is all speculative and it’s hard to see a team like DC pulled north when it has plenty of nearby pairing options. But hopefully this paints a picture for what is possible.