Daily Kickoff - 5.8.24
What you need to know

Three MLS teams advance in US Open Cup

The first four of eight MLS clubs participating in the 2024 US Open Cup debuted Tuesday night, with Atlanta United, FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes punching their tickets into the Round of 16. Houston Dynamo FC fell in penalties to Detroit City FC.

Vancouver, Montréal tackle first test in Canadian Championship

Vancouver Whitecaps FC and CF Montréal earned positive road results Tuesday in the 2024 Canadian Championship, giving them momentum entering their quarterfinal return legs at home later this month.

Four more MLS sides enter US Open Cup tonight

Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, LAFC and Seattle Sounders FC jump into the competition tonight. Check out the full schedule here.

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Are you ready to recognize Hell is Real is the realest Rivalry Week rivalry rolling right now?

You may have felt an extra twinge of disrespect in your heart the last few days. The kind of disrespect that makes you want to drive safely and comfortably to your enemy’s house to tell them how you really feel. That’s your soul telling you it’s Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire.

We’ll get plenty of heated matchups over the next 10 days – Rivalry Week is more like a season than an actual increment of time – but there’s an argument the best of the bunch will be in Ohio this Saturday when Columbus Crew host FC Cincinnati in the first Hell is Real of the season (7:45 pm ET | Apple TV - Free, FS1).

We’re not committing one way or the other. But we think it's worth laying out the case as the reigning MLS Cup champs host the reigning Supporters' Shield champs at Lower.com Field.

The first meeting since…

The last time we saw these two teams on the same field, they were running on fumes through 120 minutes of the Eastern Conference Final in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Just to refresh your memory: FC Cincinnati went up 2-0 in the first half thanks to goals from Brandon Vazquez and Luciano Acosta. They nearly took a 3-0 lead with 20 minutes remaining, but a Video Review decision canceled out the goal. Moments later, Columbus pulled one back by forcing an own goal. In the 86th minute, Diego Rossi erased the deficit entirely to send the match to extra time. Christian Ramirez then found the net in the 115th minute to give the Crew a 3-2 win and send them on their way to an MLS Cup they absolutely weren’t losing. The result marked the only time all year the Crew pulled off a win while trailing at halftime and the only time all year Cincy failed to earn a win after leading at halftime.

It also gave the Crew a near-limitless cache of “Yeah, buts…” No matter what happens in like the next 10 editions of this derby, Columbus can point to the 2023 Eastern Conference Final and say, “Yeah, but remember that time we ruined your chance at a double in your own house despite you holding a 2-0 lead at halftime?” and automatically win the argument. This is FC Cincinnati’s albatross until they pull off a win of equal or greater value. That’s going to be really hard to do.

It won’t stop them from trying to get it all back in one game though. The Garys should come out with their hair on fire in this one. Rivalry Week is, at its core, a season of revenge.

Trophy versus trophy

It’s not often you get two arch-rivals holding the league’s two biggest trophies. It’s really only happened twice as far as I can tell. Both instances came long ago in the Before Times and both instances were between the Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes (2005, 2012) and the MLS Cup-winning LA Galaxy (2005, 2012).

This kind of matchup hasn’t happened in MLS since before they invented Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). And it’s not like both teams have fallen off a cliff since winning those trophies. FC Cincinnati are on 1.91 points per game through 11 games. The Crew are on the verge of winning the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup. These are still clearly two of the five best teams in MLS. Maybe two of the three best.

For Cincy, that feels particularly impressive. Columbus kept their MLS Cup-winning group together. Cincy’s Shield-winning side had a few renovations done after the departure of Brandon Vazquez, Alvaro Barreal and Yerson Mosquera.

The Ultimate “-ucho”

Of course, it’s a bit easier to survive some roster turnover when your league MVP sticks around and keeps playing at an MVP level. Luciano Acosta has been fantastic again this year for Cincy, already picking up five goals and five assists. He’s actually averaging more goal contributions per 90 this season despite taking zero penalties. We may be looking at the best-ever version of Lucho.

On the other side of Lucho, there’s Cucho Hernandez. Cucho isn’t quite putting up the same numbers in MLS thanks in part to Columbus doing double duty in Concacaf Champions Cup and thanks in part to an odd multi-game suspension earlier this year. But he’s still one of the most talented attackers in the league. He has four goals and an assist in seven starts and it feels like a real down period for him. He’s still averaging 0.71 goal contributions per 90 and is still a constant source of fear if you’re on the opposing team.

Not only are you getting two of the best teams in the league going head to head, but you’re getting two of its biggest stars. On top of that, we didn’t even get to dig into the fact that reigning Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year winner Pat Noonan is facing off with Coach of the Moment Wilfried Nancy. This isn’t just a premier rivalry game – it’s simply a premier game in this league. It’s hard to think you could ask for more this weekend.

Other things

Toronto, Akinola mutually terminate contract: Toronto FC and forward Ayo Akinola have mutually terminated his contract. Akinola has 15 goals and two assists in 90 matches, highlighted by standout play at the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020.

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Good luck out there. Hit it where they ain’t.