Riverhounds open unpredictable U.S. Open Cup
It's U.S. soccer's version of March Madness played out over an entire summer.
With one caveat: Teams like the Riverhounds often get the opportunity to play the roles of both Florida Gulf Coast and Kentucky during the same event.
The Riverhounds host a first-round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Tournament at 7 p.m. Tuesday against RWB Adria at Highmark Stadium.
The Riverhounds, who compete in what is considered the No. 2 professional league in the country (USL Pro), will be heavy favorites during the early stages of the tournament, which is open to pro and amateur teams.
Should they advance further, though, Major League Soccer sides enter the bracket. Then USL Pro teams become the underdogs.
The Riverhounds could go from the Goliaths to the Davids.
“It really is a very cool event,” Riverhounds coach Justin Evans said. “There's amateur teams that get to qualify and see how they play against the professionals. You don't want to be that team that has an amateur team come in and beat you; people will be asking you what's going on.
“But the same thing can happen to the MLS teams. They have that same kind of feel when they play a team from our league or another league. Every game is kind of like a trap.”
Evans admits he knows little about his team's opponent — another aspect that makes the tournament so intriguing.
Chicago-based RWB Adria was founded by Croatian immigrants and has strong ties to the Eastern European nation on its roster. According to the team's website, this is the fifth time the club has qualified for the U.S. Open Cup. RWB Adria typically competes in a Chicago-based semipro league and in the Croatian North American Soccer Tournament.
“You can't take any of these teams lightly because everyone is out to prove themselves and prove they can play at the ... USL level,” Riverhounds midfielder Rich Costanzo said.
That is similar to how the Riverhounds would embrace an opportunity to see how they match up against an MLS team. Evans said the Riverhounds are bidding to host a third-round game against an MLS opponent.
There is precedent: In 1999, the Rochester Raging Rhinos became the only team from the second professional league (then called The A League) to win the U.S. Open Cup since MLS' inception.
This past weekend also provides inspiration. Wigan, a team on the verge of relegation from the United Kingdom's top league, was the surprise champion of the FA Cup, which is the British version of the U.S. Open Cup. Wigan beat reigning English Premier League champion Manchester City in the final.
“No matter who you are or what team you're on or where you come from, you have a chance to work your way up and play against the top levels in the U.S.,” said Costanzo, a Thomas Jefferson High School alumnus.
The Riverhounds (1-4-3) are on a three-game unbeaten streak after going winless in their first five matches. They resume USL Pro play by hosting the Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday night.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.