Orlando City SC supporters cheer on their team in their Fourth Round game against Memphis 901 FC in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orlando City SC
An over-capacity crowd at Mike Rose Soccer Complex in the Memphis suburb of Collierville was treated to an entertaining game between Memphis 901 FC and Orlando City in the Fourth Round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The 3,088 fans crammed in to a 2,500 seat stadium saw Orlando strike first on a penalty from Sacha Kljestan only for the hometown Boys in Blue to strike back just after halftime on a header from Elliott Collier. After the equalizer, though, it was all Orlando as Kljestan struck again and then Robin Jansson made it 3-1 to put the game to bed 20 minutes from time.
Orlando now advances to the Round of 16 where they host the New England Revolution on June 19 at the newly-renamed Exploria Stadium (formerly Orlando City Stadium). The winner of that game advances to take on either DC United or New York City in the Quarterfinals.
As was the case in their last game of the US Open Cup, Memphis 901 FC was unable to play at their usual home stadium of AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis due to scheduling conflicts with the Memphis Redbirds. And as was the case in their last game of the US Open Cup they played at the stadium at Mike Rose Soccer Complex in the suburb of Collierville. Unlike the last time however, the place was full to the brim and then some. The crowd for the first game was a respectable 1,819but on this night there wasn’t room for four more people. All grand stand seating was sold out the day before and the grassy hill behind one of the goals had to be opened up.
What was different this time around for Memphis from their previous was they were missing a number of key players who had been called up for international duty: Duane Muckette and Leston Paul had been called up by Trinidad & Tobago for the Gold Cup while Cam Lindley had been called into the US U-23 camp by Jason Kreis. They did get Adam Najem back from international duty with Afghanistan and he was given the starting nod in the midfield. Orlando came into this game not missing anybody through injury (although Dom Dwyer was initially listed as questionable with a hamstring injury). They rolled out a starting XI that was a strong one, but still not their full squad. Missing was the superstar Nani, as he is not yet eligible to play in the Open Cup, but guys like Sacha Kljestan, Christian Higuita, and Tesho Akindele were given the start.
Things looked bright early on for Memphis as they had the first several chances but couldn’t quite take advantage of them, either through heroics in goal by Orlando or the offside flag of the assistant referee or just bad luck. The talent and experience for Orlando showed as they weathered the early storm and eventually began to assert themselves. They eventually earned a penalty a few minutes before halftime that Kljestan stepped up to take. Memphis keeper Scott Levene guessed the right way but Kljestan placed it perfectly to put Orlando up 1-0. The second half however, Memphis came out with a purpose and quickly found an equalizer off the head of Collier. Orlando responded immediately through Kljestian to go back up 2-1. Memphis gamely tried to get back into it and kept pushing and made an attacking sub as Orlando was set to take a corner, but the ensuing kick pinballed around in the six yard box a few times before it wound up in the back of the net off the foot of Robin Jansson. That goal seemed to take the wind completely out of the sails of the Memphis fight back and Orlando got out of town with a 3-1 win.
Orlando head coach James O’Connor was impressed with how Memphis performed against his MLS side.
“I thought Memphis played well and made it very difficult for us to break them down,” said O’Connor, who managed Memphis’ USL rival Louisville City before taking the Orlando City job last season. “They defended in numbers and it was a tough game for us. So we’re really pleased that we managed to get the win and get through to the next round.”
Memphis head coach Tim Mulqueen and some of the Memphis players certainly felt hard done by the referee. Elliott Collier was the least diplomatic of the bunch as he yelled to nobody in particular after the game that the no-call leading the Orlando’s second goal was “un-f***ing believable.” Marc Burch agreed with the sentiment saying, “He shouldn’t be refereeing any more.”
One thing that does need to be said is that the atmosphere of the game was nothing short of outstanding for the entire game. Much has been made by fans and certain media members (Taylor Twellman of ESPN chief among them) that for the US Open Cup to grow, MLS teams need to travel to lower division sides up to the quarter-finals. The crowd and atmosphere in Memphis and a number of largely empty MLS stadiums only serve to bolster that argument. Memphis packed the house and there was a decent contingent of Orlando fans, and they even had flags that were big enough that they looked like they belonged on a Revolutionary War battlefield. Nights like that are all the proof that should be needed to have more MLS teams play on the road in the Open Cup.