The final eight for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is set and there’s a chance that two non-MLS teams could make a run to the semifinals. Sacramento Republic FC and Union Omaha have ridden cupsets with each knocking off at least one MLS side en route to earning their places. Scheduling was a little tough as it will take over a week to complete the four quarterfinal matches, but with a derby match and two games including lower division sides, we have all the makings of an interesting slate.
Let’s take a look at said slate along with three key takeaways for this round.
U.S. Open Cup schedule
All times Eastern, all games available on ESPN+
Tuesday, June 22
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic, 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 23
New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC, 8 p.m.
Sporting Kansas City vs. Union Omaha, 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 29
Orlando City vs. Nashville SC, 7 p.m.
1. Hudson River Derby time
Ronny Deila is out as the NYCFC coach and Nick Cushing is in, but the goal remains the same: Win more silverware and defeat your rivals as many times as possible in the process. These are the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, with only one point separating them in league play, so expect some fireworks in this clash. NYCFC boast one of the best defenses in the league, allowing only 11 goals in their 14 matches. They also average almost two goals per game, so they’re as comfortable beating you in a shootout as they are grinding out a 1-0 win.
Luquinhas is hitting his stride with three goals in his last three games to drive the Red Bulls attack forward. Built on another stout defense, this game could easily end scoreless in regulation with a penalty shootout or see the teams get into a track meet at Red Bull Arena. Truly a must-watch affair.
2. Lower division sides stand up
Union Omaha have an Open Cup story for the ages after knocking out the Chicago Fire and Minnesota United. As luck would have it, they’ve been paired against a beatable Sporting Kansas City team mired at the bottom of the Western Conference. A combination of a porous defense and a struggling attack has them ripe in cupset territory. Union Omaha have built things on a strong defense that has seen them allow eight goals in their nine matches played in USL League One and their attack has been opportunistic enough to get things done.
Sacramento Republic will have a tougher challenge facing the Galaxy, but they did just defeat their second team by a 2-0 score on June 18. Will that help provide insight into how Greg Vanney will want to play? Also, will the Galaxy put out a full-strength starting XI before traveling to San Jose for a rivalry match and following that up by hosting Minnesota United in a critical Western Conference match? It’s still early in the season but this is when MLS sides need to begin prioritizing where they can use their best players if they aren’t deep enough to compete on multiple fronts and win the league.
3. Throwing it back to the old Eastern Conference
This game will feel like a throwback after Nashville SC were moved to the Western Conference and because both teams are in similar places to star the season. Mauricio Pereyra has been on a tear for Orlando, assisting five goals this season. Locking him down will be key for Nashville’s defense. The issue is that they haven’t been as stout as years past, with 18 goals already allowed this season. The attack lives and dies by the hands of Hany Mukhtar, who picked up where he left off with six goals and three assists, but figuring out who will be the second fiddle in the attack has been an issue for Nashville coach Gary Smith.
They probably envisioned Ake Loba to fulfill that role, but with one goal in 15 MLS matches this season, things have not worked out as expected. That said, a cup match could be just what the doctor ordered.