US Open Cup Round of 16 Preview
It gets serious
This Wednesday at 7:00pm possibly the most significant game in the Legion’s history will be upon us. Some will argue that last season’s first ever home playoff retains that honor, and it’s a good argument. One that should be conducted over copious volumes of Good People Snakehandler.
So, for the first time ever, the Legion will be playing an MLS team in an actual competition, not just a preseason friendly or scrimmage. It won’t be Atlanta United (who were knocked out 2 rounds ago by Memphis 901, subsequently knocked out themselves by the Three Sparks), nor will it be Nashville SC, another local favorite. Nashville will be playing at Inter Miami on Tuesday (6:30pm) in the other half of this group in the draw, and since there will be no further draws for the Cup, the winners will meet up in the quarterfinals (and if the Legion win it will be played in Birmingham).
No, instead the Legion gets Charlotte FC, which at the time of the draw was probably the easiest possible game. Nashville currently rank 5th overall in MLS. Miami are now 17th and Charlotte 12th, but until this past Saturday Charlotte were been on a 3-game win streak. That included a game played last Wednesday, in which they came from behind to beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 (the Fire played without Jonny Dean, which explains everything). Before that they beat Atlanta 3-1 (although United played down a man for a large stretch of the game and were also without striker Giorgos Giakoumakis). And before that they beat New York City FC 3-2. Of those 3 teams, only Atlanta are above them in the overall standings. But the streak ended when they lost 1-2 at home to Nashville, as part of MLS’ Rivalry Week. A much tougher game, obviously, from Charlotte’s perspective, although the teams traded blooper goals before a slightly dubious second half stoppage time penalty gave Nashville the win.
Note also that the Legion and Charlotte have already played each other this year in a preseason friendly. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but Charlotte won 3-2. You can read Charlotte’s rather poorly written report here.
Also be thankful that the game will be played here rather than at Bank of America Stadium as that friendly was. Charlotte, despite not impressing much on the field, has been drawing outsized crowds, even larger than Atlanta sometimes, and they are incredibly rowdy and partisan. They constitute a real 12th man.
Charlotte tends to play a 4-3-3 (sometimes a 4-4-2). The 3 up top are generally Enzo Copetti, Karol Swiderski and recently acquired Justin Meram (who some may recall from his days at Atlanta United. Copetti (a Designated Player) is an Argentinian and has scored 4 times in 11 games, having joined the team this season. Swiderski is from Poland and been with Charlotte since its first ever game last year and has 13 goals in 38 games. Meram has only played 4 games with Charlotte so far but has 2 goals (both against Atlanta) and 2 assists. However, he is 34 and this is his 13th season in MLS (not a record, but close) and his legs may not have too much left in them.
The rest of the team is fairly youthful, though, and largely unknown names unless you happen to be a fan of the team. For example, last Wednesday’s comeback win over Chicago came at the feet of 21-year-old Brandon Cambridge, who scored twice in an appearance off the bench (he started the season in MLS Next Pro, so that league is not entirely useless it seems).
They have several goalkeepers on the roster. The nominal starter is apparently Croatian Kristijan Kahlina, but the game against Chicago was his first of the season after he was sidelined with back surgery. Chicago didn’t really challenge him much, so that’s not much to go on there. Indeed, although Chicago scored first it was against the run of play and Charlotte looked pretty much in control all game.
But Chicago has been weak all season (they fired their head coach a couple of weeks and rehired Frank Klopas to replace him). Against higher quality teams they have struggled. The no-name back line has failed to defend well and they have given up 23 goals in 13 games.
All told, this is going to be an interesting game. I’m going to bottle out of making a prediction, but I will say that this is an entirely winnable game for the Legion, even though they sit on a 4-game league losing streak. Especially with that prize money for the last lower division team remaining within their grasp…
…but to get it they will have do better than the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (why is it always them?), or possibly split the pot with them. The Drowned Puppies are the only other USL team surviving, and they have a rather more difficult task. Like the Legion they are at home, but they will play the Columbus Crew (Wednesday, 6:00pm). The Crew are 5th in the East and 9th overall. That’s rather more of an uphill task, although they did shock the New England Revolution 1-0 to get this far.
Finally, I haven’t given any broadcast details, because of course you are going to be there and don’t need them. Besides, although all Open Cup games from now on will be on YouTube, details have not yet been released anyway.