Links to full #USOC2017 coverage located at the bottom
In a battle of tournament underdogs, the NASL’s Miami FC will host the USL’s Cincinnati FC Wednesday night in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup quarterfinal. The game, rescheduled from July 12 due to inclement weather, will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and be live streamed online (it will be embedded above when it’s made available). The winner will become the 13th lower division side to reach the Open Cup semifinals since 1996, and the first since 2011 (Richmond Kickers, USL)
Adding a little extra flavor to the matchup, it features a team from the NASL and the USL. The two leagues have been rivals since a handful of teams broke away from the USL to form the NASL back in 2010. This is the 21st Open Cup meeting between NASL and USL sides, with the USL holding a narrow 10-8-2 edge in those contests.
A reasonable accounting would suggest Miami FC, champions of the NASL’s spring season, are the favorites, but circumstances have changed for the two clubs in the three weeks since the postponement of the original quarterfinal. While Miami have lost only two games during the NASL’s spring season, they suffered easily their most convincing defeat of the year Saturday in their NASL fall season opener against the New York Cosmos.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati, led by the reigning TheCup.us Player of the Round, goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt. The Oakland University (Mich.) product, who carries a staggering US Open Cup personal shutout streak of 379 minutes into the quarterfinal, is better-rested. Entering the July 12 match, the Queen City club would have been playing for the seventh time in 19 days. Entering the Aug. 2 reschedule, the schedule has slowed, and despite a 3-2 loss over the weekend to the Rochester Rhinos, Cincinnati play tonight’s game with far fresher legs.
Above all, tonight’s game is a credit to two smart front offices, an intriguing contrast of soccer styles, with Alan Koch and Cincinnati’s compact, organized defense and counterattacking style a stylistic opposite to Miami FC’s possession-intensive pressure attack.
Still, Cincinnati aren’t without goalscoring threats, led by Senegal international Dijby Fall, who has tallied three goals for the side in the Open Cup. There is attacking depth in Jamaica international Omar Cummings and the bruising Dane, Danni König. There is also Premier League veteran and former Arsenal product Justin Hoyte, a Trinidad and Tobago international, who provides speed and width on the break, and often plays off the bench, giving the team an electric option as legs tire.
Cincinnati will also have fresh faces available, as recently acquired striker Kevin Schindler, who has played for Werder Bremen, will be eligible for Wednesday’s match. Vancouver Whitecaps product Sem de Wit, a centerback, is unlikely to travel for the fixture but would be eligible to play if he did.
The Cincinnati calling card is defense, starting with a stout midfield that covers ground first. Aodhan Quinn, Kenney Walker and Paul Nicholson patrol the midfield, putting in hard tackles and waiting for the opponent to make mistakes, distributing quickly in transition when Cincy win the ball. And behind them, Cincinnati play an organized trap and when all else fails, have Hildebrandt, whose heroics against the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire are a huge reason the club are here.
Miami FC, with their cupboard of attacking talent in the tournament’s leading scorer Stefano Pinho, Ariel Martinez, Jaime Chavez, Enzo Rennella and Kwadwo Poku, will test Cincinnati’s defense as intensely as any team they’ve played in this competition. And this time, there won’t be 30,000 fans at Nippert Stadium urging Cincinnati forward. But Miami know and respect what a difficult challenge it will be to finally be the team that breaks through and scores against Cincinnati in this competition.
“Cincinnati are a good team that’s very good at what they do, especially defensively,” said Miami FC captain Michael Lahoud. “They have had an amazing Open Cup run to get to this round, and have really benefited from their inspiring home crowds. I expect them to be well organized and a lethal counter-attacking team, looking to take advantage of whatever chance they get, while keeping it extremely tight at the back.”
Still, Miami FC are eager to show they are more than just a splendid blend of attacking riches. They defend too, as one would expect from a team managed by Alessandro Nesta, a World Cup winner with Italy nicknamed “The Minister of Defense.”
“If you play for Nesta, you’ll defend,” Kwadwo Poku said. “We have to suffer that together.”
The orange and blue have done enough defensively to get to this point, despite conceding two goals to both the South Florida Surf (PDL) and more understandably, Atlanta United of MLS. They stifled the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ counterattack and frustrated Kaka and Orlando City for ninety minutes, using defensive pressure to earn chances high up the pitch. It’s a formula for success, and the club are looking forward to building on the championship resume they secured in the spring.
“We are excited about the match and the opportunity to take one step closer to one of our biggest goals this season,” Lahoud said. “It will be an incredible night for my teammates, the fans, and the city of Miami.”
If Miami do win, they will become the first team from the state of Florida to reach the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinals since 2000 (Miami Fusion, MLS). Meanwhile, Cincinnati are playing to become the first team from southern Ohio to reach the semifinals of the competition since the Columbus Crew accomplished the feat in 2010. No team from either city has ever lifted the US Open Cup trophy, and no lower division team has done so since the Rochester Raging Rhinos (A-League) in 1999.
One underdog’s dream will live on. And with these two well-coached and well-constructed teams, who’s to say it stops there?
FC Cincinnati Open Cup records
Overall: 4-1-1 (1-0 PK) | Home: 4-0-1 (1-0 PK) | Away: 0-1-0 | vs. Div. 2: 1-1-0
Last entry: 2016 (Lost 1-0 at Tampa Bay Rowdies of NASL in Round 3)
Best finish: 2016 Third Round (Lost 1-0 at Tampa Bay Rowdies of NASL)
Leading goalscorer: Djiby Fall – 3 goals (T-2nd in 2017 US Open Cup)
How they got here
Round 2: 1-0 (AET) home win vs. AFC Cleveland (NPSL)
Round 3: 1-0 home win vs. Louisville City FC (USL)
Round 4: 1-0 home win vs. Columbus Crew (MLS)
Round 5: 0-0 home draw (3-1 PK win) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)
Miami FC Open Cup records
Overall: 4-1-0 | Home: 3-1-0 | Away: 1-0-0 | vs. Div. 2: 1-0-0
Last entry: 2016 (Lost 2-1 vs. Wilmington Hammerheads of USL in Round 3)
Best finish: 2016 Third Round (Lost 2-1 vs. Wilmington Hammerheads of USL)
Leading goalscorer: Stefano Pinho – 4 goals (1st in 2017 US Open Cup)
How they got here
Round 2: 3-2 home win vs. South Florida Surf (PDL)
Round 3: 2-0 home win vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL)
Round 4: 3-1 road win vs. Orlando City SC (MLS)
Round 5: 3-2 home win vs. Atlanta United (MLS)
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