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What you need to know

MLS teams begin US Open Cup campaign tonight

Atlanta United, Houston Dynamo FC, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes all play in the US Open Cup’s Round of 32 tonight. Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC and LAFC play tomorrow. Check out the full schedule here.

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Eight teams have an immediate opportunity

Normally, it’s hard to put too much weight on an MLS team’s early games in the US Open Cup. I’ve been pretty steadfast in that opinion. It’s better to wait until about the quarterfinal round. At that point, you’re firmly in trophy territory and in prime position to snag a spot in the Concacaf Champions Cup. At that point, it’s time to bring your best, and you’ll be judged accordingly if you don’t.

But with only eight MLS teams in the competition this year, the time to hit the gas is now. A few wins will immediately put you on the verge of a CCC berth, and that’s an opportunity you must take advantage of.

To get a sense of who has the best shot at making the most of USOC, here’s how each of the eight MLS participants are handling the season.

San Jose Earthquakes

It hasn’t been a “good” year. The Quakes are at the bottom of the league and have allowed more goals than anyone. It’s been, uh, poor on multiple levels defensively. They don’t limit chances, and their goalkeeping has been well below average. It’s easy to see how we got to an “expansion year FC Cincinnati” mark of 26 goals allowed in 11 games.

However, the Quakes have a decent attack and recently added a new DP No. 10, Hernán López, into the mix. He likely won’t be a factor this early in the tournament, but could play a major role later. If he helps the Quakes put together more performances like they did against LAFC this past weekend, they have a chance.

FC Dallas

San Jose are bad, but they have a few qualities that make you think they need a few tweaks here and there to level up to mediocre. Dallas, on the other hand… well, I don’t know how you salvage this right now. Injuries and a total regression across the board have derailed their season. Last year they were at least solid defensively. Even that trait has disappeared.

A US Open Cup run could salvage the pieces of a season that seems destined for minimal points right now. But it’s hard to see it happening.

Houston Dynamo FC

The Dynamo will be fine, but it’s been a weird few weeks. They followed up the good news of Héctor Herrera’s return to the lineup and a contract extension for Ben Olsen by going scoreless in three straight games. If they don’t get things going in attack tonight against Detroit City, they could be a prime candidate for an upset.

I’ve got to think things aren’t quite that rough right now, but it’s not like the Dynamo were blowing the doors off defenses earlier in the season. Last year’s US Open Cup champs have some work to do if they want to defend their title.

Atlanta United

There is genuine pressure on the Five Stripes to win this game in a way I don’t think is there for the other teams on this list. After their winless streak extended to five games last weekend against Minnesota, Atlanta supporters are running out of patience. Regardless of what kind of team Atlanta put out tonight, a loss to Charlotte Independence would fan some flames.

That said, there’s a decent argument Atlanta are the best MLS team in this competition based on the underlying numbers and talent level. They could easily win this, and, for me at least, it wouldn’t be a surprise. This sport is weird.

Sporting Kansas City

The hot streak that defined the end of their 2023 season is long gone. Sporting KC have 11 points from 11 games and have allowed 19 goals. They have one win in the last seven games. It’s not a total disaster right now, but it’s definitely not the step forward they were hoping to take after last season.

Tonight could be a potential “get-right game” for some of their guys, but, then again, we’ve seen Union Omaha take down MLS sides before.

Real Salt Lake

RSL may just be the favorite of this bunch. It’s hard to argue against it based on their current performances. They’ve seen major jumps forward from Chicho Arango, Andrés Gómez and Braian Ojeda this year, and it’s paid off with a spot at the top of the Western Conference.

We should note RSL have gotten off to decent starts in previous years. Those have normally come from sheer early-season effort paying dividends while teams figure things out in attack. This is different. They have the talent to compete across the field, and Arango is putting up MVP-caliber numbers. We haven’t seen an RSL side this good in a long time. They’re absolutely a contender to win this. They may not even need to win it to earn a CCC berth this year.

Seattle Sounders FC

The Sounders have a storied history in this competition. It is difficult to see this team adding to it. Nothing is going right for this group, to the point where an upset tonight wouldn’t be all that surprising. When you’re cursed, you’re cursed.

That said, I’m still willing to hold out for this group. If they can avoid some upsets in the next couple of rounds, maybe they can come good before they start facing MLS competition.


LAFC are in an odd spot. Everyone knows what their flaws are, but, at the same time, Denis Bouanga helps cover a lot of those up. And they’re still generating a ton of chances. They probably aren’t as middle-of-the-road as their record (15 points in 11 games) makes them seem.

They play against the ball a little too much right now, though. They don’t seem to control games the way they need to. Their performances have largely been underwhelming. And, at times, their two open DP spots feel a little too open. They could use a little help.

They might get it by the end of this tournament. And it’s clear they still have plenty of talent. Considering their style of play, this group may be built to get through a knockout competition pretty well. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see them lifting a trophy when all is said and done.

Other things

Messi repeats as MLS Player of the Matchday: After a second straight record-breaking performance, Inter Miami CF's Lionel Messi has won his second straight MLS Player of the Matchday award. The superstar Argentine No. 10 was the biggest standout of Matchday 12, guiding the Herons to a 6-2 rout of the New York Red Bulls behind a historic 1g/5a stat line that broke two league records.

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Good luck out there. Outdo the last person who did it.