Things you should know about the Third Round of the US Open Cup

Posted by | May 27, 2016
Cal FC celebrate their goal in the first period of extra time. Photo: L.M. Parr | Portland Timbers

Cal FC celebrate their goal in the first period of extra time against the Portland Timbers of MLS. Photo: L.M. Parr | Portland Timbers

MORE: Notable upsets in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

Since the expanded format in 1997, a USL League Two (formerly Premier Development League) team has failed to reach the Third Round just six times (1998, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2019). The recent struggles can be attributed to the fact that in 2007, the format was changed so that all non-MLS teams began the tournament in the First Round, unlike previous tournaments where USL League Two teams were matched up with other Open Division clubs. In more recent years, that format has been altered slightly where the First Round is exclusively Open Division clubs, with lower division pro teams entering in Round 2 and Round 3.

The biggest rout in the Third Round during the Modern Era came in 2014 when the Sacramento Republic (USL PRO) defeated the Fresno Fuego (PDL) 6-0.

In their 1998 Third Round match, Major League Soccer’s Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Worcester Wildfire of the A-League combined for nine cautions, and saw four players sent off. Tampa Bay won the match on penalties, after finishing extra time drawn 2-2.

The attendance record for the Third Round during the Modern Era is 17,212. This was set on May 29, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah when Real Salt Lake of MLS hosted the Minnesota Stars FC of the NASL. Unfortunately for the home team, they lost 3-1.

The highest scoring Modern Era Open Cup game occurred in the Third Round on July 19, 2005 when the Richmond Kickers (USL-1) defeated the Ocean City Barons (now the Ocean City Nor’easters of USL League Two) 8-4. The game was played at Sports Backers Stadium in Richmond, Va., a week after the original match was re-scheduled due to bad weather. The Barons scored first in the 4th minute, but Richmond stormed back with four goals in less than 20 minutes. With the score 4-1, Ocean City scored a pair of goals on either side of halftime to cut the lead to one. At that point, Neil Holloway, the Barons player/manager made some offensive-minded substitutions and pushed for the equalizer, but at that point, the flood gates opened and Richmond scored four more in the second half. The game would finish 8-4. The previous total goals record was shared by a pair of games. In 1995, the Seattle Sounders (A-League, now USL-1) defeated the Everett BigFoot (USISL Pro, now USL-2) 9-2 and in 1999 the San Diego Flash (A-League) cruised past the Arizona Sahuaros (D3 Pro, 3rd Division) by the same score.

In 2007, a record five MLS teams were upset in the Third Round, with only three clubs advancing to the next round. It was the fewest MLS teams to enter the Quarterfinals in the Modern Era (1995-present).

On five occasions, a pair of 3rd Division clubs have won Third Round games in the same tournament. In 2007, the Richmond Kickers (1-0 win vs. Los Angeles Galaxy) and the Harrisburg City Islanders (1-0 win vs. DC United) were victorious. Two years later, in 2009, the Wilmington Hammerheads won another Third Round match (their fourth) and with the Harrisburg City Islanders, they were the second pair of USL-2 teams to reach the Quarterfinals in the same season. In 2010, the City Islanders made it two years in a row, upsetting the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in overtime, while the Charleston Battery (who moved down to the 3rd Division after several years in the 2nd Division) eliminated the Chicago Fire of MLS in a penalty kick shootout after a scoreless draw. In 2012, with the expanded tournament (64 teams), three clubs from the 3rd Division reached Round 4. The Harrisburg City Islanders erased a 3-0 deficit in the second extra time period, forced penalty kicks and upset the New England Revolution. The Charlotte Eagles knocked off FC Dallas 2-0, while the Dayton Dutch Lions surprised the Columbus Crew by winning the first ‘Ohio Derby’ by a score of 2-1. In 2013, Orlando City SC upset their first MLS team, knocking off the Colorado Rapids 3-1, while the Charleston Battery upset the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0.

In 2014, seven 3rd Division clubs (USL PRO) and in 2015, 12 advanced past the Third Round, but this was largely due to a change in format where Major League Soccer didn’t enter the tournament until Round 4. In 2016, that number dropped to six.

In 2004, a Modern Era record four Open Division teams reached the Third Round. All four teams were from USL Leageu Two (PDL) and all four of them lost by a single goal (three of them by golden goal) in their Round 3 matches:

* Boulder Rapids Reserve lost to the Minnesota Thunder (A-League, Division II) 2-1 in sudden death extra time
* Carolina Dynamo lost to the Atlanta Silverbacks (A-League, Division II) 3-2 in sudden death extra time
* Cape Cod Crusaders lost to the Richmond Kickers (A-League, Division II) 1-0 in sudden death extra time
* Chicago Fire Reserves lost to the Rochester Raging Rhinos (A-League, Division II) 1-0 in regulation.

In 2013, that record was matched with four new teams:

* Ocean City Nor’easters (PDL) lost 2-1 at Philadelphia Union (MLS)
* Des Moines Menace (PDL) lost 2-0 at Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
* Reading United (PDL) lost 2-0 at New York Red Bulls (MLS)
* FC Tucson (PDL) lost 2-0 at Houston Dynamo (MLS)

In 2015, that record was broken with FIVE teams:

* Chattanooga FC (NPSL) lost 2-1 (AET) vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)
* Chula Vista (USASA) lost 7-3 at Sacramento Republic (USL)
* Jersey Express (PDL) lost 3-0 at New York Cosmos (NASL)
* PSA Elite (USASA) defeated Ventura County Fusion (PDL) 2-1 (1st all-Open Division Round 3 matchup)

In 2016, that number was up to SEVEN:

* Lansdowne Bhoys (USASA)
* Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
* Jersey Express (PDL)
* Des Moines Menace (PDL)
* La Maquina (USASA)
* LA Wolves FC (USASA)
* Kitsap Pumas (PDL)

In 2006, four more Open Division clubs reached Round 3, but for the first time, TWO of them advanced:

* Dallas Roma FC eliminated Chivas USA of MLS 4-2 in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless draw to become the first USASA club to eliminate a Major League Soccer team.
* Carolina Dynamo defeated the Seattle Sounders (USL First Division, Division II) 3-2 after extra time
* Michigan Bucks lost to the Columbus Crew (MLS, Division I) 4-1
* Des Moines Menace lost to the Kansas City Wizards (MLS, Division I) 2-1

In 2014, due to an increase in Open Division entries and a change in format (most teams beginning in Round 2), a record 12 Open Division clubs reached the Third Round. Three of them advanced.

In 2012, for just the second time in the Modern Era, two Open Division teams advanced beyond Round 3, but both of them were particularly historic:

*The Michigan Bucks became just the fourth USL League Two (PDL) team to eliminate a Major League Soccer team when they defeated the Chicago Fire 3-2 in extra time at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Mich. With the win, they also became the first Open Division team to defeat multiple MLS teams in club history after they upset the New England Revolution in Foxboro, Mass. in 2000.

* Cal FC, a USASA club from Southern California managed by former US international Eric Wynalda, not only became the first USASA team to score a goal against a Major League Soccer team, but they became the first to defeat one. (Dallas Roma FC won their game in PKs, and therefore is officially a draw) Cal FC upset the Portland Timbers 1-0 in extra time at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Ore. Cal FC joined the Michigan Bucks as the only Open Division team to defeat an MLS team on the road, but the Bucks’ upset of New England in 2000 remains the only time an Open Division team has done it within 90 minutes.

In 2003, the Fresno Fuego (PDL) became the first Open Division team to win a Third Round game in the Modern Era (1995-present), upsetting the El Paso Patriots (A-League, Division II) by a score of 5-2.

Prior to 2014, only 12 3rd Division clubs have ever advanced beyond the Third Round. In 2015, seven NEW clubs advanced. San Antonio FC was the only new USL teams to accomplish that feat in 2016.

Wilmington Hammerheads (2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2016)
Harrisburg City Islanders (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016)
Charleston Battery (2010, 2013, 2015)
Richmond Kickers (2007, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Charlotte Eagles (2012)
Dayton Dutch Lions (2012)
Orlando City SC (2013, 2014)
San Francisco Bay Seals (1997)
Rochester Rhinos (2014, 2015, 2016)
Pittsburgh Riverhounds (2014, 2015)
Arizona United SC (2014)
Seattle Sounders 2 (2015)
Charlotte Independence (2015)
Louisville City FC (2015)
Saint Louis FC (2015)
Oklahoma City FC Energy (2015, 2016)
Austin Aztex (2015)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (2015, 2016)
Sacramento Republic (2014, 2015)
San Antonio FC (2016)

Note: The format of the 2014 US Open Cup changed so Major League Soccer teams didn’t begin the tournament until Round 4 to accommodate the increase in teams (80).

In the Modern Era, only 16 open division teams have advanced beyond the Third Round:

Fresno Fuego (2003, PDL)
Des Moines Menace (2005, PDL)
Dallas Roma FC (2006, USASA)
Carolina Dynamo (2006, PDL)
Cal FC (2012, USASA)
Michigan Bucks (2012, PDL)**
Orlando City U23s (2014, PDL)
Laredo Heat (2014, PDL)
PSA Elite (2014, USASA)
PSA Elite (2015, USASA)*
Kitsap Pumas (2016, PDL)
La Maquina (2016, USASA)*
Christos FC (2017, USASA)*
Miami United FC (2018, NPSL)*
NTX Rayados (2018, USASA)*
FC Golden State Force (2018, PDL)**
Orange County FC (2019, NPSL)

** Defeated a MLS team in Round 3
* Defeated an Open Division team in Round 3


  • chris says:

    So, has a PDL team ever defeated a MLS team in any round of the US Open Cup?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      Four MLS teams have been eliminated by amateur clubs …

      2000 Second Round: Mid-Michigan Bucks (PDL) 1:0 New England Revolution (at Foxboro)
      2000 Second Round: Chicago Sockers (PDL) 0:0 (7:6 in PKs) Kansas City Wizards (at Chicago)
      2001 Second Round: Seattle Sounders Select (PDL) 3:2 Dallas Burn (at Dallas)
      2006 Third Round: Dallas Roma FC (USASA) 0:0 (4:2 in PKs) Chivas USA (at Chivas)

  • chris says:

    Thanks for the info John.

  • MarkB452 says:

    After all those losses in 2007, it seems like the MLS teams have started hosting the round 3 games rather than go on the road. That’s a shame. It was definitely a thrill for the folks in Richmond (and other towns as well) to have a MLS team come to town.

  • Andrew says:

    Why is the draw not random like other open cup tournaments? If it was, it is hard to believe the 7 out 8 matches selected the MLS team as the home side.

  • Mike says:

    @Andrew: It was random (though not transparent), but several MLS teams opted to pay the lower division side to give up the home-field advantage, so that’s skewed the #s.

  • D says:

    It is a coin flip for hosting, but if the lower division team doesn’t apply to host, or their venue doesn’t meet standards, it goes to the higher team by default. This happens a lot.