Gear up, folks. The opening rounds are in the books and MLS teams are set to enter the fray for the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. They will all be facing off against lower-league opposition, ensuring the third round is stacked with plenty of enticing matchups.
Between the MLS ambitions of well-established lower league teams, the ever-growing connection between MLS and USL PRO, and attempts to balance proud traditions in the cup with a grueling league schedule, there should be no shortage of storylines to follow in next week's games. Here are three that will be worth paying extra special attention to:
1. Orlando City SC vs. Colorado Rapids – May 28, 7:30 pm ET
They're excited for this one in Orlando. But they're not the only ones who should be.
Though Orlando were bypassed by New York City FC in the quest to become MLS' 20th expansion team, the team's MLS ambition remains fierce, and they will be eager to show they belong as a current MLS team comes to town.
This year, OCSC are already flying high in USL PRO, having jumped out to a five-point lead in the table thanks to an attack averaging 2.6 goals per game, led by Sporting KC loanee Dom Dwyer, who's netted 12 goals in just 10 games and added another in Orlando City's second-round win over the Ocala Stampede on Tuesday night.
Colorado, for their part, have done well to weather a crippling injury crisis to start their season, but may not be eager to risk the healthy regulars they have remaining in a cross-country trip sandwiched between two weekend games. It all adds up to make for an intriguing matchup.
2. Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Seattle Sounders – May 29, 7:30 pm ET
The reigning NASL champions face one of the hottest teams in MLS. But Seattle are making the cross-country jaunt to the East Coast in between trips to LA, making for a tricky balancing act, which the Rowdies could use to their advantage.
Seattle, three-time Open Cup champions between 2009-11, will be eager to win given a potential fourth-round Cascadia rivalry match against the Portland Timbers on the horizon (the Timbers host Wilmington in the third round). It would be the first Open Cup match between the two MLS clubs since both teams joined the league.
Whether you're rooting for a potentially enormous fourth-round matchup, for the Rowdies to spring the upset, or simply to see two of the top teams in their respective leagues go at it, this one should make for some excellent Wednesday night entertainment.
3. Richmond Kickers vs. D.C. United – May 28, 7 pm ET
Considering MLS' recent affiliation with USL PRO has mostly resulted in geography-based partnerships and the draw for the US Open Cup followed a similar pattern, a clash between an MLS team and its affiliate seemed a very likely possibility, if not inevitable.
In the end, there will be two such instances in the third round, as the New England Revolution take on the Rochester Rhinos, while D.C. face off against Richmond. It is the latter tie that presents the most intrigue, not simply because United are scuffling while the Kickers are enjoying a solid start to their season, but because there has already been so much movement between the teams.
D.C. originally sent Casey Townsend, Andrew Dykstra, Michael Seaton, Conor Shanosky and Taylor Kemp on loan to Richmond as part of the affiliate agreement, but have already recalled Kemp and Townsend as head coach Ben Olsen continues to look for solutions to his team's current winless streak, consisting of seven losses bookended by a pair of draws.
Shanosky also figures to be part of D.C.'s plans, though Dykstra, who went the distance in goal in Richmond's 4-1 second round victory over Icon FC will remain cup-tied to the Kickers.
With two teams plenty familiar with each other and the potential for an upset as high as any match in the third round, this game should definitely be circled on your calendar if you enjoy the tradition and drama of the Open Cup.