US Open Cup Third Round Preview

The choo-choo makes the return trip

With a midweek Open Cup game looming, posts this week’s posts are going to come fast and furious and in a potentially crazy order. First up, though, here’s what’s coming in the Cup.

The most important part

Having disposed of one Chattanooga team, the Legion now has to deal with the other one. At least this game is at home…

Well, sort of. Back to Tuscaloosa we go, and I have to say it was a very pleasant experience last year. Bama’s soccer stadium may be small, but it is extremely well-maintained. The regular tenants – the UA women’s soccer team – will be on hand for a meet and greet before the game, and joining them will be members of the inaugural Birmingham Legion WFC team. Which raises the obvious question: how much of an overlap will there be between the two? To date the club has been entirely tight-lipped on that front, so it’s going to be interesting to get some insight.

So, be there before the kickoff, which will be at 7:00pm. Note that the club will be streaming the game via its website and app, unlike our previous hosts. Don’t use that as an excuse though.

The opponent will be the other Chattanooga team, the one with a rather longer history, the unoriginally named Chattanooga FC. Around since 2009, the club currently competes in NISA, where they have been since 2020 and becoming fully professional. Prior to that they were members of the semi-pro NPSL. As discussed in the previous round’s preview, they have a very fractious relationship with the Red Wolves. The team itself has won only one honor in its history, that being the Hank Steinbrecher Cup in 2015, a national amateur knock-out competition.

This could be the year for a league championship. The NISA season is only  3 weeks old, admittedly, but Chattanooga is unquestionably the early favorite. NISA has only 9 active teams, but they are the clear stand-out, much as Detroit City once was. Right now they are 3-0-0, having scored 9 goals and allowed none. True, those wins were against 3 of the bottom 4 teams, but again, this is a small league. The only goal they have given up in actual competition this season was in the USOC second round, when they beat League Two’s Des Moines Menace 4-1. Even in preseason they played Atlanta United to a 3-3 draw (they also beat One Knox, the League One expansion team, 1-0). Their weakest result so far was just this past weekend, when they beat Flower City Union (of Rochester, NY) 1-0 on a PK. Flower City are one of two other NISA teams still in the USOC, so this may have been a rotation game for both teams.

Which is to say, this is not a team to take lightly. But unless you have taken the time to peruse their games on YouTube, they are not going to be familiar faces at all. They don’t even have a standout scorer; those 9 goals were scored by 7 different players. The 4 goals against Des Moines were all by different players, two of whom have not scored in league play. They clearly spread the wealth. Overall, the top scorer is Norwegian forward Markus Naglestad, who has 3 goals to his name. He’s 31 and has been around the block a bit, including a brief stint at Hartford Athletic in 2020.

The most dangerous player would be Taylor Gray (#11). Listed as a forward, he plays mostly as a winger. He has some decent speed and like to play deep and wide. He was also once League Two Forward of the Year with Tri-Cities Otters. Their goalkeeper is no slouch either. Haitian Jean Antoine joined the club this year and has already made some sparkling saves. Last year with Cal United Strikers (now in the dreaded hiatus status) he recorded 12 clean sheets in 16 matches and allowed five goals total.

Prediction: USOC games are always hard to predict and cupsets abound. That being said, this is the Legion’s third attempt to make it past the third round and I fully expect them to take it very seriously. In all likelihood, and with the weekend’s game pushed to Sunday (thanks, Stallions!) as close to a full first team as possible will take the field. 2-1 Legion.

Best of the rest

There will be a total of 24 games in this round, 8 on Tuesday and 16 on Wednesday. Of those, 16 will be streamed on various platforms. The full guide is here.

Note that other than the seeded teams, all eligible MLS teams enter the fray in this round. Minus the 3 Canadian teams, and the 8 seeded teams, that means there are 18 MLS teams playing in this round. 6 of them play Tuesday evening, and the most interesting one for Legion fans will probably be the New England Revolution v. Hartford Athletic (6:30pm). Hartford are this weekend’s opponent, of course, and the Revs have a pretty deep relationship with the Legion to say the least. Also worth checking will be a late game with a 9:00pm kick off: Monterey Bay v. San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose are a tough side, but Monterey are also a much improved team over last season. Lastly, consider St. Louis City v. Union Omaha (7:00pm). St. Louis have burst onto the scene in MLS in a big way, shocking everyone by winning their first five games in the league and currently leading the Western Conference.

On Wednesday, you will of course be concerned with one game in particular, but at 6:30pm Atlanta United v. Memphis 901 should be worth keeping an eye on, especially since Memphis actually broke out big this weekend. Even before that, FC Cincinnati vs. Louisville City at 6:00pm could be tempting. Likewise Nashville SC v. San Antonio at 7:30pm and Seattle Sounders v. San Diego Loyal at 9:00pm. There are also two games involving only USL Championship teams. Both could be good: New Mexico United v. Phoenix Rising (8:00pm) and last year’s runners-up Sacramento Republic v. Oakland Roots (9:00pm, but no stream).

That’s it. The date for the fourth round draw has not been announced, but if they follow the third round draw it will be this Thursday evening. The games are to be played May 9-10.

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