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MURRAY: Top 10 USL Open Cup Moments

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/10/21, 9:05AM EST


2021’s tournament will offer the chance for more memorable games in the historic tournament’s return

Louisville City FC's Brian Ownby, Forward Madison FC's Christian Diaz and former New Mexico United forward Kevaughn Frater have all produced memorable Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup moments in recent years.

The format for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was announced on Tuesday, setting up a 24-team tournament that will feature teams from the USL Championship and USL League One kicking off in May.

One of the highlights on the domestic calendar, the Open Cup has risen in prominence in recent years. That’s been aided by broader availability of games on digital platform ESPN+ – also the home of the Championship and League One – and the Cupsets that have seen lower division sides get the better of their Major League Soccer opponents.

Cupsets are nothing new, though, and have produced some remarkable moments over the past decade since the Championship’s inaugural season in 2011. Here’s a look at some of the most memorable from this era of the tournament.

Shaka Bangura, Richmond Kickers vs. Sporting Kansas City, 2011

The Richmond Kickers have had a proud history in the Open Cup – the club won the tournament in 1995, its third season, as current Chairman & President Rob Ukrop scored before the side won in a penalty shootout.

In 2011, the Kickers made another run in the 40-team tournament. After getting past Columbus Crew SC in the Third Round on the road in Ohio, they were drawn against Sporting Kansas City in the Quarterfinals. SKC had recently opened Children’s Mercy Park and had made it a fortress. No MLS side had claimed victory in its first five games, but thanks to a second-half goal by Shaka Bangura the Kickers broke the deadlock and went on to take victory.

The game was notable for a lengthy lightning delay that saw the teams depart for 81 minutes. Not long after the resumption, Bangura’s goal arrived. David Bulow – who led the tournament with six goals – added an insurance marker from the penalty spot with five minutes to go as Richmond reached the Semifinals.

Nate Boyden, Michigan Bucks vs. Chicago Fire, 2012

The great thing about the Open Cup is the opportunity for anyone – and I mean anyone – to have their moment of fame. For the then-Michigan Bucks – now top League Two side the Flint City Bucks – the Third Round matchup against the Chicago Fire was to be Nate Boyden’s.

The Bucks had claimed some notable upsets in prior editions of the tournament, but drawn to host one of the finalists from 2011 they faced a tall order the Fire. In front of a packed crowd of 2,000 fans at Ultimate Soccer Arenas, the Bucks took a surprise lead through Tommy Catalano in the ninth minute, only for current Louisville City FC midfielder Corben Bone to pull the Fire level before halftime and Federico Puppo to put Chicago ahead early in the second half.

Then, Boyden’s moment arrived. With 11 minutes to go he appeared at the back post to head home an equalizer that sent the game to extra time. Three minutes into the additional 30 minutes, Nermin Crncik put the Bucks ahead, a lead they held for a memorable victory. For Boyden, that goal was maybe the high point of his club career. The following year he became an assistant coach at Loyola University Chicago, a position he still holds.

Long Tan, Orlando City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City, 2013

If you’re a long-time follower of the Championship, you’ll know the story of when Dom Dwyer was sent on loan to Orlando City SC by Sporting Kansas City for the 2013 Championship Final and led the Lions to victory.

Well, here’s the game where SKC said no, and Orlando won anyway. On loan with Orlando at the start of the season, Dwyer was cup-tied to the Lions after scoring twice against the Colorado Rapids in a 3-1 victory in the Third Round. Dwyer and a trio of other SKC loanees were held out of the Lions’ clash with Sporting, however, as the MLS club cited a gentleman’s agreement between the clubs to have the four players sidelined for the game.

In the end, however, it didn’t matter. Long Tan scored in the second minute and Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo recorded a shutout to eliminate the defending title-holders and advance to the Quarterfinals.

Jorge Herrera, Charlotte Independence vs. New England Revolution, 2015

Jorge Herrera had his fair share of standout moments since arriving in Charlotte with then USL Second Division side the Charlotte Eagles in 2007, but one of the best came on the campus of Harvard University.

In the Independence’s first season, the Colombian’s brilliant strike off a clever feed from Enzo Martinez 10 minutes into the second half against the New England Revolution sent Charlotte into the Round of 16 for what remains the deepest run in the Jacks’ Open Cup history.

Mitch Hildebrandt, FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire, 2017

Named the Championship’s Goalkeeper of the Year in FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season in 2016, Mitch Hildebrandt had already turned into a cult hero at Nippert Stadium. The club’s run in the Open Cup the following year, though, brought the legend of “Mitch Says No” to a national audience.

Cincinnati had already pulled a 1-0 upset of Columbus Crew SC in the first edition of the Hell is Real Derby in the Fourth Round as Hildebrandt recorded a five-save shutout. That brought FCC a home tie with the Chicago Fire and the national stage on ESPN, where a sellout crowd of 32,287 fans cheered on the hosts.

Hildebrandt was massive throughout 120 minutes, recording 10 saves to keep the game scoreless. Then as the game went to a penalty shootout, the current Sporting Kansas City II goalkeeping coach made saves to deny Nemanja Nikolic, Arturo Álvarez and Juninho to etch his name into the national consciousness.

Brian Ownby, Louisville City FC vs. New England Revolution, 2018

There have been times where Brian Ownby’s ability to come through in the clutch has paid big dividends for Louisville City FC. For example, he notched goals in each of LouCity’s first three games on the road to the club’s first USL Championship title in 2017.

The following summer, though, he came up with another perfectly-timed strike that might have topped all of those that came before it. After twice rallying from a deficit against the New England Revolution at Lynn Stadium, Ownby’s blast to the top-left corner proved the difference in a 3-2 victory and helped pave the way in LouCity’s run to the Quarterfinals.

Jure Matjašič, Sacramento Republic FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC, 2018

Sacramento Republic FC has had a strong history in the Open Cup, but its victory against four-time winners Seattle Sounders FC in the 2018 edition of the tournament might have been its biggest moment, while coming from an unlikely source.

Midfielder Jure Matjašič only spent one season in Old Glory Red and notched two goals in 24 regular-season games for Republic FC. Yet, before he returned to his native Slovenia the following year, his 115th-minute goal gave Sacramento a night to remember at Papa Murphy’s Park.

Christian Diaz, Forward Madison FC vs. El Paso Locomotive FC, 2019

The 2021 edition of the Open Cup will be the second opportunity for clubs from USL League One to enter, with two teams expected to take part. They’ll be hoping to emulate Forward Madison FC’s performance two years ago, which saw the Flamingos post one of the results of the Second Round against El Paso Locomotive FC with a 3-0 win.

Madison had picked up only two wins in its first six games of the League One season as it arrived to face the Championship’s Locomotive FC at Southwest University Park. It ended up putting in a sterling display that was highlighted by Christian Diaz’s goal which gave the Flamingos a two-goal halftime lead. 

Madison's win - which made it the lone League One side to advance - gave the club a landmark night, and a notable result for the league overall. 

Sam Fink, Saint Louis FC vs. FC Cincinnati, 2019

The city of St. Louis’ history with the Open Cup goes back almost a century, with Ben Millers becoming the first team from the city to win the tournament in the 1919-20 edition. Saint Louis FC wasn’t quite able to emulate that run, but a goal from one of the city’s own in the Fifth Round of the 2019 Open Cup added another chapter to that history.

STLFC had previously defeated the Chicago Fire in the Fourth Round, but as time wound down in regulation between the hosts and former Championship rival FC Cincinnati – now in its first season in Major League Soccer – the game remained deadlocked and appeared set for extra time. Then, off a corner kick deep in stoppage time, Bridgeton, Missouri’s Sam Fink headed home to give the side victory and send the crowd at World Wide Technology Soccer Park into wild celebrations.

Kevaughn Frater, New Mexico United vs. Colorado rapids, 2019

New Mexico United had lived on the edge in its first Open Cup run. It needed a penalty shootout to take victory against fellow Championship club Phoenix Rising FC in the Second Round and then rallied late against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the Third Round before Kevaughn Frater scored the winner in extra time.

That proved the set-up for United’s first clash with an opponent from Major League Soccer in the Colorado Rapids. New Mexico’s Devon Sandoval had given the hosts an ideal start, but goals either side of halftime by the Rapids’ Diego Rubio and Gabriel Mezquida put the hosts ahead. Just when it looked like time was about to run out on New Mexico, however, Frater found an equalizer in the fourth minute of stoppage time to extend the game.

One penalty shootout – and heroics from goalkeeper Cody Mizell – later, and New Mexico had secured its first Cupset in club history.

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