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8 times USL Championship clubs upset the Open Cup odds

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/24/22, 8:50AM EDT


As Louisville City FC and Sacramento Republic FC prepare for the Round of 16, here’s a look back on upsets past

Louisville City FC's victory against the New England Revolution in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was one of the more memorable wins in the club's history. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

What’s the best part of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup?

It certainly could be rising above the competition to claim the trophy, the glory, and the place in the Concacaf Champions League that accompanies it. That’s fine, and for those clubs that etch their name into the tournament’s history book there’s an immense feeling of pride.

But what are we really here for?

You’re right, the upsets. Those moments where the higher-division club gets knocked out by one of its lesser-regarded rivals and gets the chance to move on to the next round. We’ve already seen our fair share of those in this year’s tournament, including the USL Championship’s Detroit City FC and San Antonio FC claiming memorable victories on home turf against Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew and Austin FC.

On Wednesday night, Louisville City FC and Sacramento Republic FC will get the same chance in the Round of 16. For LouCity there’s an encounter with Nashville SC, a side it used to battle in the USL Championship before NSC’s move into Major League Soccer in 2020, at Lynn Family Stadium. For Republic FC, a home draw for the first time with a familiar foe in the San Jose Earthquakes, against which Sacramento has squared off on three prior occasions in the cup.

Ahead of those contests, here’s a look back at some of the best upsets delivered by Championship clubs in years past.

Richmond Kickers 2, Sporting Kansas City 0
July 12, 2011 | Children’s Mercy Park

As a former Open Cup champion, the Richmond Kickers have always had a certain pedigree, but in 2011 they accomplished something no other lower division side had before in defeating a pair of MLS opponents back-to-back on the road in the tournament. Richmond had already handed the Columbus Crew a 2-1 defeat in the prior round thank to Matthew Delicate’s winner five minutes from time at Crew Stadium when they arrived at Sporting Kansas City’s recently opened new home.

It proved a long night for the visitors, but a fruitful one. The game remained scoreless until the 66th minute, when a lightning delay sent the teams from the field. Less than 30 seconds after the resumption, Shaka Bangura provided the thunderbolt for the visitors to put them ahead. David Bulow added a penalty kick seven minutes from full time as the Kickers became the first team to defeat SKC at its new home to advance to the Semifinals.

“We’ve only got about 15 healthy players on our roster that just played 3 games in 5 days,” said then-Kickers Head Coach Leigh Cowlishaw after the match. “We played in a great stadium with most of their starters — it wasn’t a reserve team — and it was their first defeat in the stadium. To do all that is just a statement about what this squad is all about. I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Harrisburg City Islanders 3 (4), New England Revolution 3 (3)
May 29, 2012 | Skyline Sports Complex

Harrisburg City Islanders goalkeeper Nick Noble was one of the heroes of his side's Open Cup upset of the New England Revolution with his fifth-round save on Benny Feilhaber sealing victory for the USL Championship side.

It’s in some ways a massive pity that there isn’t a recording of one of the wildest Open Cup contests in its modern history, let alone one of its most notable upsets. The City Islanders – who had reached the USL Championship Final the prior fall – took the Revolution to extra time on their home turf with the game scoreless after New England’s Diego Fagundez was sent off in the first half.

Then everything kicked off.

In the first half of extra time, the Revolution rattled off three consecutive goals as Kelyn Rowe broke the game open in the 95th minute before goals by Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber in the eight minutes that followed looked to have given the visitors passage to the next round.

Instead, the City Islanders came back. Brian Ombiji pulled the first goal back in the 111th minute before Sainey Touray added a second six minutes later. The comeback was completed by JT Noone, who provided the equalizer in the 120th minute. (Unless you were there in central Pennsylvania, it was maybe the first banner Open Cup night on Twitter, constantly refreshing your feed.)

On to penalty kicks, where Noone almost went from hero to villain as he saw his shot to open the shootout for the City Islanders saved by Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. Rowe hit the crossbar for the Revolution in Round 2, however, allowing Stephen Basso's goal to open the round to leave the teams level. After the teams exchanged goals in the next two rounds with Bilal Duckett and Drew Yates scoring for Harrisburg, Andrew Marshall led off Round 5 for the City Islanders with a goal. Feilhaber had the chance to answer and keep the shootout going, but Harrisburg’s Nick Noble made a diving save on his shot to the bottom-right corner and sent the crowd and squad into celebrations.

Orlando City SC 1, Sporting Kansas City 0
June 12, 2013 | Children’s Mercy Park

After winning the league’s first title in 2011 while building a strong fanbase in Central Florida, Orlando City SC had added to its impressive early history in the 2013 Open Cup with a 3-1 victory on home turf at the Florida Citrus Bowl against the Colorado Rapids.

The hero that night was Dom Dwyer, who scored a pair of second-half goals to send the Lions to victory.

And then came the problem. Under the fledgling agreement between the USL and MLS in 2013, Orlando had partnered with Sporting Kansas City, which had loaned Dwyer to the Lions to get him minutes and confidence. When the two sides were drawn against each other in the Fourth Round, Dwyer was cup-tied to Orlando, but SKC told the Lions he’d not be able to play against them in the Open Cup.

It turned out not to matter.

Long Tan’s goal in the second minute sent Orlando to an early lead, and from there the visitors at Children’s Mercy Park withstood that which SKC could throw at it. A four-save shutout by Miguel Gallardo and some wayward finishing from the hosts – who ended up with an 18-5 shot advantage – paved the way to victory for the Lions.

FC Cincinnati 1, Columbus Crew 0
June 14, 2017 | Nippert Stadium

The moment then-USL Championship club FC Cincinnati was drawn at home against the Columbus Crew in the Fourth Round of the 2017 Open Cup, the Hell is Real Derby came to life.

The two Ohio clubs, separated by just over 100 miles on I-71, came together at Nippert Stadium and provided a memorable contest before 30,160 fans that continued to build the legend of Mitch Says No and sparked the rivalry that now lives on in Major League Soccer.

Mitch Hildebrandt had already become a cult hero for FC Cincinnati, earning the 2016 USL Championship Goalkeeper of the Year award as the side delivered a great inaugural season the prior year, and his five saves were a highlight for the hosts, each one getting the full treatment from The Pride and the rest of the FCC supporters in The Bailey and around the venue.

The game was decided, though, by Senegalese forward Djiby Fall, who after seeing his initial header in the center of the penalty area off a cross from the right go straight up in the air managed to hold off his marker and deliver a looping header into the top-right corner of the net past Columbus’ Brad Stuver.

Cincinnati’s run ended in the Semifinals – the most recent lower-division side to advance that far in the tournament – but the club’s first win against MLS opposition in the tournament was a massive high-point in its young history.

Louisville City FC 3, New England Revolution 2
June 5, 2018 | Lynn Stadium

If Louisville City FC needs inspiration for its clash with Nashville, its home victory on the campus of the University of Louisville – in which all three goals were scored by current squad members – would be just the ticket.

The night didn’t get out to an ideal start. Mark Segbers gave New England the lead after just five minutes, but Oscar Jimenez answered six minutes later after a fine chipped cross from Brian Ownby found him cutting in at the left post. The hosts went behind again as LouCity’s Pat McMahon had the misfortune to turn the ball into his own net, but once against Louisville responded as Cameron Lancaster produced an outstanding finish from the top of the penalty area to the top-left corner of the net.

If Lancaster’s goal was sublime, Ownby’s goal just before the hour-mark was sensational. The winger shrugged off his defender to win possession and then corkscrewed his body at the top-right edge of the penalty area to fire an arrow into the top-left corner. It was the only lead LouCity held, but it was the only one they needed to advance.  

Sacramento Republic FC 2, Seattle Sounders FC 1
June 6, 2018 | Heart Health Park

Jure Matjašič only ever scored three goals in Sacramento Republic FC’s colors. One of those, however, was enough to place his name in the club’s memory banks.

Sacramento’s home clash with Seattle Sounders FC was one that in reality the hosts dominated, playing against a below-stretch side that didn’t include many of the Sounders’ household names. Republic FC outshot their visitors 26 to 7, so it wasn’t a surprise when on the hour-mark local standout Cameron Iwasa tucked home the opening goal.

What was a surprise was the late twist before the final whistle as Seattle looked for an equalizer. A loose ball came out to Harry Shipp well outside the penalty area, and his low shot took a deflection and caromed into the bottom-left corner of the net to send the game into extra time.

As the prospect of a penalty shootout came into view, though, so did Matjašič’s moment of destiny. A good interception by Villyan Bijev and pass inside set up Iwasa for a powerful shot that Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith could only parry, allowing the Slovenian to put home the rebound for a memorable result.

Saint Louis FC 1, FC Cincinnati 0
June 19, 2019 | World Wide Technology Soccer Park

Two years after it had been the underdog story, FC Cincinnati got a taste of what it was like to be on the other side of an upset as St. Louis’ storied Open Cup history added another chapter.

The history in the USL Championship between Saint Louis FC and FCC didn’t seem to offer much in the way of encouragement. Cincinnati had held an undefeated 4-0-1 record against STLFC in their prior meetings, outscoring them 12-4.

But with the game still scoreless – and FCC goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń having already been forced into five saves – as the game reached stoppage time, a local hero arrived. Saint Louis’ captain Sam Fink – a native of nearby Bridgeton, Mo. – delivered a powerful header in the third minute of stoppage time to send the hosts through.

New Mexico United 2, FC Dallas 1
June 19, 2019 | Westcott Field

In its inaugural season, New Mexico United had already come a long way to reach the Round of 16 in its first Open Cup, defeating fellow USL Championship sides Phoenix Rising FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on the road before coming through a dramatic penalty shootout win against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Good Park.

So, what was one more road trip?

Despite going down late in the first half to an outstanding finish by future U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Brandon Servania, New Mexico delivered another remarkable night for its plentiful travelling support. An equalizer just before the halftime break by Kevaughn Frater pulled the visitors level before Sam Hamilton powered home a finish midway through the second half for the decisive goal in the club’s fairytale run.

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