US Open Cup: El Trafico, Rocky Mountain rivalries arrive in Round of 16


The 2023 US Open Cup has reached the Round of 16, a stage where 14 Major League Soccer teams remain in contention. 

As the field further narrows Tuesday and Wednesday, here are three big storylines to watch for.

El Trafico
LAFC vs. LA Galaxy

For the second straight year, these cross-city rivals meet in the US Open Cup’s Round of 16 – except now they’re heading in completely different directions.

LAFC, hosting at BMO Stadium, are atop the Western Conference table with a 7W-1L-4D record and are preparing to play in the Concacaf Champions League final next week vs. Liga MX’s Club León. The latter might cause head coach Steve Cherundolo to rotate his squad, like he already showed a willingness to do when fielding an MLS NEXT Pro-heavy side for their thrilling win at Monterey Bay FC in the Round of 32.

Meanwhile, the LA Galaxy are bottom of the league with a 2W-8L-3D record. Off-field tensions remain high as supporter-led protests continue. The club’s summer transfer sanctions are in place (the short version is they can’t sign players from abroad). And it’s unclear if their talent, combined with head coach Greg Vanney’s tactics, will turn things around.

One more layer: LAFC won the year’s first El Trafico, taking a 3-2 league result at Dignity Health Sports Park (their first road victory in the rivalry). While emotions can overtake form in these derbies, recent history is important to consider.

Rocky Mountain rivalry
Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake

Four days after contesting the Rocky Mountain Cup in MLS Matchday 14, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake meet again at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. And it’s RSL enjoying the confidence boost before a midweek rematch, taking a 3-2 win on Saturday evening whereby Damir Kreilach’s first-half goal was the game-winner.

Now, neither Western Conference club has been in fantastic form this year. Colorado are 12th and yet to win at home in league play (0W-3L-3D), while RSL are 11th after losing five of their first seven games. Perhaps someone can climb the table, boosted by an Open Cup run.

RSL and Colorado have competed in the US Open Cup twice before, with the Rapids winning in both 2006 and 2007 contests. That was a lifetime ago in MLS terms, though.

Lower-division opponents
Columbus, Charlotte ready for fight

On Wednesday night, two USL Championship clubs (Pittsburgh & Birmingham) will look to keep lower-division hopes alive in the Open Cup. They’ll also both play at home, offering a potential advantage.

The second-division teams will be hoping to strike as their MLS foes come off weekend defeats. Then again, Columbus have stars like Cucho Hernández and Lucas Zelarayán, while Charlotte seem to have turned a corner under manager Christian Lattanzio.

For some quick history: Last September, USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC became the first non-MLS finalist since 2008 before falling to Orlando City SC. These opportunities are a rarity, not commonplace. Cupsets happen (and have this year), but MLS clubs are favored.