Harpo’s FC cruised to a 3-1 victory over local rival Colorado Rush in the second round of the 2016 US Open Cup qualifying tournament. The victory puts the Boulder, Colo.-based “pub team” into the final round of the competition, which, in turn, puts them in prime position to qualify for the 103rd edition of the US Open Cup.
Fourteen teams have advanced to the final round, which is scheduled to be played during the first weekend of April. The draw will take place on Jan. 7 with 12 teams learning their “Win & You’re In” opponents, while the two teams that are located the furthest away from the rest of the teams will receive byes into the US Open Cup. The closest team to Boulder is roughly 1,200 miles away, so Harpo’s are among the favorites to receive a third round bye.
Harpo’s is the last remaining team from the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), an organization that first started entering the US Open Cup in 2013 and has submitted one team in each of the last three seasons.
Despite the club’s lofty dreams of a sophomore cup run, Harpo’s owner Johnny Freeston and head coach Steve Lepper were prepared and down to business taking care of first-time Open Cup hopefuls Rush.
“It’s always a competitive and spirited game when we play the Colorado Rush and this US Open Cup qualifier was no different,” said Freeston. “We are very familiar with their style of play so we planned and trained accordingly.”
Harpo’s FC opened up the scoring early with a scissor kick goal in the 7th minute by star forward Kyle Luetkehans. Luetkehans made an impact on last year’s Cup run when he was voted TheCup.us Player of the Round for the team’s Preliminary Round win over the Kansas City Athletics. Harpo’s made it 2-0 when captain Dan Campbell chipped the Rush goalkeeper after a quick breakaway at the 36-minute mark.
“Scoring an early goal always helps and going up 2-0 before halftime was great,” said Freeston. “But it’s also the most dangerous scoreline in world football and it proved to be the case here.”
After the halftime break, Rush coach Aldo Del Piccolo switched from their midfield clogging 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 full field attack. DelPiccolo’s side came out flying, garnering a series of corner kicks that finally resulted in a goal by University of North Carolina product Owen Darby, who connected with a well-taken corner to make a powerful headed goal. Harpo’s responded later in the second half with a corner kick header by defender Sawyer Frank in the 81st minute that put the 3-1 game beyond reach.
Colorado Rush fielded a team that featured a collection of former NCAA, MLS and international players now serving as coaches in Rush’s extensive youth system. Most notable was former Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy man Colin Clark who was clearly the focus of the Rush attack. Clark showed good form and moments of high quality but left the game frustrated with lack of service that Harpo’s fullbacks allowed to reach him. It was later revealed that he was struggling with an eye injury that his afternoon even less enjoyable. Clark’s game was representative of Rush’s inability to match their opponent’s undeniable ability integrate eleven talented players into a cohesive system.
Harpo’s returned almost the entire same team from last month’s previous qualifier against the Colorado Rovers and their 2015 Cup run. The two main absentees were star goalkeeper Zac Gibbons and striker Shane Wheeler, who was seen warming up on the sideline for the first time this fall. Regardless, Freeston and Lepper’s veteran squad displayed their usual excellent organization and consistency that has brought them so much recent success.
“We’re very excited to find out who our next opponent is,” added Freeston. “We will either have a third qualification game in April or we’ll have a bye into the First Round proper on May 11. Either way, we’ll apply to host the match and we’ll be ready to ball, so bring it on.”
Robert Wilson also contributed to this report
GAME HIGHLIGHTS: Harpo’s FC vs. Colorado Rush