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Which USL Championship club has the best chance of an Open Cup Upset?

By Staff, 04/29/23, 9:20AM EDT


Six of the league’s remaining teams will face MLS opposition in the Round of 32, here’s our ranking of who might advance

Sacramento Republic FC's run in the 2022 Open Cup made history for the club, but it's also won 15 consecutive Open Cup contests in the friendly confines of Heart Health Park. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC

We already know there will be at least one USL Championship team in the Round of 16 of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Southern Harm clash between Birmingham Legion FC and Memphis 901 FC will see to that.

But which other Championship clubs might join them in advancing to the next stage?

We're glad you asked.

From big home opportunities to difficult away draws, the six Championship teams that will face MLS opposition have clearly varying chances of success. Here’s our ranking of which side has the best opportunity to advance, and which is likely to have the longest odds of keeping its Open Cup dreams alive in two weeks.

1. Sacramento Republic FC

Opponent: Colorado Rapids
Venue: Heart Health Park

The Lowdown: Why is Sacramento Republic FC the best option? Simply put, this is what Republic FC does. Sacramento has won 15 consecutive home games in the Open Cup going back to the start of the 2018 season. In that time, they’ve not only knocked off teams in lower tiers and fellow USL Championship clubs, but Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC, the San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City.

The Rapids have only won twice to this point of the season, and one of those was at home to USL League One club Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC. The only MLS team they’ve defeated is the winless Sporting Kansas City. Republic FC and its fans will expect another big night at Heart Health Park.

2. Charleston Battery

The Charleston Battery's Nick Markanich has scored in both of the club's Open Cup victories so far, quickly emerging as a notable part of the side's attacking corps. | Photo courtesy Michael Wiser / Charleston Battery

Opponent: Inter Miami CF
Venue: DRV PNK Stadium

The Lowdown: As our friend Mike Watts pointed out, there’s a substantial difference in the record for USL Championship clubs when it comes to winning at home as opposed to on the road. So, why are the Battery this high? It’s pretty simple – the Battery have the feeling of a young, hungry and cohesive group and Inter Miami CF… doesn’t.

The Battery are presently undefeated in all competitions this year. They’ve built a strong base quickly under the leadership of new Head Coach Ben Pirmann and have enough talent to deliver the goals they’ll need in the final third with the emergence of Nick Markanich and Fidel Barajas alongside Augustine Williams. Credit IMCF for its fightbacks against Miami FC to advance in a penalty shootout, but the pressure is going to be on the hosts here, especially if their current league form continues as it has, giving the Battery the chance to play loose and go for it. 

3. Monterey Bay F.C.

Opponent: Los Angeles FC
Venue: Cardinale Stadium

The Lowdown: There’s good reason to believe Monterey Bay F.C. got the toughest draw of any of the USL Championship sides this round. Los Angeles FC is the defending MLS Cup champion, hasn’t lost in the league so far this season, and is vying for its first Concacaf Champions League crown.

That last bit, though, is a big reason why Monterey Bay is going to have a better chance here than you might expect. LAFC will square off with the Philadelphia Union seven days before this game in the second leg of their CCL Semifinal. They’ll follow that with a visit to the San Jose Earthquakes on the Saturday night before completing a run of three games in eight days at Cardinale Stadium. The Open Cup, frankly, is probably about as far from their minds as it could be. That means a potential LAFC back-up squad, and a chance for Monterey Bay’s veteran standouts to make more history.

4. Loudoun United FC

Loudoun United FC has made a strong start to its new era, including a pair of Open Cup victories, but will get a serious test from Columbus Crew SC. | Photo courtesy Don Fuller / Loudoun United FC

Opponent: Columbus Crew SC
Venue: Segra Field

The Lowdown: Look at this video of Loudoun United FC’s players reacting to getting a home draw for their first home game against an MLS squad in club history. What does that say to you about the level of excitement and confidence this side is filled with now?

The challenge? The Crew are good, man. New Columbus Head Coach Wilfried Nancy is doing work, they’re averaging two goals per game in MLS, and it’s only because of Yannik Oettl’s seven saves and some missed opportunities on the Crew’s side their 1-0 win against Indy Eleven wasn’t much more comfortable (the xG matchup favored Columbus 3.17-to-0.29). Loudoun will certainly be up for this game, but it’s going to be a serious challenge.

5. New Mexico United

Opponent: Austin FC
Venue: Q2 Stadium

The Lowdown: We’ve seen this story before. New Mexico United goes on the road in Texas and despite indifferent league form finds a way to deliver a remarkable victory. (In 2019, New Mexico went 0-3-2 in its five USL Championship games around its road upsets of the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas in the Open Cup.)

United hasn’t made a great start to this season, in all honesty, but at the same time neither has Austin FC. After reaching the Western Conference Final of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last year, Austin is 11th in the West with two wins from its first eight games. That, though, means the hosts could look to a game like this to spark their fortunes, and means New Mexico is going to have to be extremely locked in to come away with a repeat of four years ago.

6. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Opponent: New England Revolution
Venue: Gillette Stadium

The Lowdown: This contest has one of the best storylines of the round. For the Revolution you have Head Coach Bruce Arena, the winningest coach in Major League Soccer history. For the Hounds you have Head Coach Bob Lilley, the winningest coach since the USL Championship’s origin, and someone who has recorded 324 regular season wins in outdoor professional soccer in his career going into this weekend.

The Open Cup history for the Hounds, though, hasn’t been kind. It’s been more than two decades since the club last defeated an MLS side in the Open Cup, which stands as the club’s only win against top-flight opposition in the competition. The Revolution are going to make sure they’re prepared to break out the big guns if needed, see 2021 MLS MVP Carles Gil coming on to provide the assist on its game-winner against Hartford Athletic. The Hounds will have a chance – this is the Open Cup, there’s always a chance – but they’ll have to be on top of their game to get a historic win.

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