Saint Louis FC will try to pull off its third consecutive upset in this year's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when it visits Atlanta United FC on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Nick Dawes / Saint Louis FC
Saint Louis FC and New Mexico United will try to become the second USL Championship club in the past three seasons to reach the Semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night as they hit the road for the Quarterfinals in the 106th edition of the historic tournament. Both will face big challenges with defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC awaiting STLFC, while New Mexico and a large contingent of fans make the trip to face a Minnesota United FC side that has lost only once at home this season in Major League Soccer.
Both teams progressed after thrilling victories in the Round of 16, with New Mexico advancing 2-1 against FC Dallas as Sam Hamilton scored the game-winning goal on the road to continue the first-year club’s dream run in the tournament. Saint Louis, meanwhile, got a stoppage-time winner from captain Sam Fink to earn a 1-0 victory against FC Cincinnati to continue its best run in the tournament in its club’s history.
Saint Louis FC’s deepest run in the Open Cup sees it take on an Atlanta United FC side looking to add more silverware after its victory in MLS Cup a season ago, but both sides are coming off draws in their last league outings that arrived in very different fashions. STLFC rallied back to earn a 2-2 result against Loudoun United FC on Saturday night on the back of one goal and one assist from Russell Cicerone and the 50th regular-season goal in the career of veteran forward Kyle Greig. Atlanta, meanwhile, surrendered a late equalizer to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With another key game coming up next weekend on the road against Seattle Sounders FC, it will be interesting to see what sort of lineup Atlanta Head Coach Frank de Boer sends out for Wednesday’s contest, which is being held at ATL UTD 2’s home venue of Fifth Third Field. The previous time Atlanta hosted a USL Championship side in this year’s tournament it needed extra time to get past the Charleston Battery in the Fourth Round. Saint Louis’ league form hasn’t matched its success in the Open Cup recently, but the side took a 2-0 win at the same venue against ATL UTD 2 back on April 6 behind first-half goals from Fink and Cicerone and will be hopeful of producing a similarly disciplined performance this time around, especially if Greig found a spark this past weekend.
New Mexico United has been the road warrior of this year’s Open Cup, winning four consecutive games away from home to make a remarkable run in its first season of action. If that run is going to continue, however, Head Coach Troy Lesesne’s side will have to do it without the services of leading scorer Kevaughn Frater, who is suspended after receiving his third yellow card of the tournament in the club’s victory three weeks ago against FC Dallas.
If there’s been another man of the moment for NMU in the Open Cup, though, it has been Devon Sandoval. The Albuquerque native has scored three goals to sit tied with Frater for the team high in the tournament, and with the supporting cast of Santi Moar and Chris Wehan there to provide service and support New Mexico could still have enough firepower to take on Minnesota. The Loons have been on an impressive run of form in the league of late, however, with the side on a three-game winning streak in Major League Soccer after Saturday’s 3-2 victory against the Montreal Impact. With the likes of Colombian winger Darwin Quintero and veteran defender Ike Opara potentially leading the way, NMU’s visit to the Loons will be the biggest test they’ve seen so far during their run.