the stage at which four Major League Soccer teams enter the fray -- were announced by U.S. Soccer on Thursday. The third round matches will be played on July 12 and 13, with all four MLS teams playing on the second date.
The U.S. top flight's two expansion teams will be playing their first ever Open Cup matches as the third round gets underway. Real Salt Lake have the toughest draw of any MLS team, as they are the only club to face a United Soccer Leagues First Division (second tier) side when they travel to St. Paul, Minn., to battle the Minnesota Thunder. A year ago, the Thunder advanced to the quarterfinals of the competition, defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy in the fourth round before bowing out to the San Jose Earthquakes on penalty kicks. The Thunder thumped Chicago Fire Premier of the Premier Development League 5-0 on Wednesday in the second round.
The other MLS expansion team, Chivas USA, will make a trip clear across the country for their third-round match. USL Second Division side Charlotte Eagles await the Red-and-White for a match that will be played on the campus of Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. The Eagles beat PDL squad El Paso Patriots 4-1 on Wednesday to advance to the third round.
One of the other four MLS entrants in the third round, the Chicago Fire, has had more success than any other MLS club in the Open Cup. The Fire completed the domestic double in their inaugural year in 1998 by topping the Columbus Crew in the Open Cup Final, then they beat the Miami Fusion in the title game in 2000 and denied the MetroStars their first trophy in the 2003 Final. Last year, the Fire fell to the Kansas City Wizards in the championship match. The Windy City club gets its 2005 campaign going with a visit to Ludlow, Mass., for a battle against the USL Second Division's Western Mass Pioneers. The Pioneers routed the USASA's Indiana Reggae Boyz 5-0 in the second round.
FC Dallas are the only MLS team to have a home match in the third round of the Open Cup. The Hoops will host the Wilmington Hammerheads of the USL Second Division at the University of Texas-Dallas. The Texas club won the competition in 1997 as the Dallas Burn with a penalty kick shootout over D.C. United in Indianapolis. A year ago, Dallas advanced to the quarterfinals before being dumped out by the Wizards in embarrassing fashion. The Hammerheads moved on to third round with a 5-0 thrashing of USASA side Roma on Wednesday.
The remaining third round fixtures feature the Seattle Sounders (USL1) at the Portland Timbers (USL1) on July 12 and three more July 13 matches: Virginia Beach Mariners (USL1) at Rochester Rhinos (USL1), Ocean City Barons (PDL) at Richmond Kickers (USL1), and Des Moines Menace (PDL) at Atlanta Silverbacks (USL1).
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.