The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final will be set this week as the road to determine who will hoist the title is almost at its end. The tournament has been canceled for the past two years due to scheduling challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic so winning the 107th edition of the tournament will be particularly special. Three MLS sides are left in Sporting Kansas City, Orlando City, and the New York Red Bulls while one USL side, Sacramento Republic joins them.
It has been a special run for Sacramento that has seen them take down the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes while now having a chance to topple another MLS team. A non-MLS team hasn’t won the tournament since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999 while the Charleston Battery were the last non-MLS team to even make the final in 2008, so Sacramento are already etching their names in history by the game.
All times Eastern, all matches are available to stream on ESPN+
Wednesday, July 27
Orlando City SC vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
Sacramento Republic vs. Sporting Kansas City, 10:30 p.m.
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Can Orlando City stop their slide?
While the Lions currently occupy a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Orlando City are winless in their last three matches and scoring goals has been an issue. They’ve only scored multiple goals in four of 15 matches played since the beginning of May and that includes U.S. Open Cup play where they’ve needed two penalty shootouts in a row to make it this far. Facing one of the best defenses in MLS in the Red Bulls, this is a match where goals could be hard to come by.
The Red Bulls sit third in the Eastern Conference and should see the Open Cup as their best chance at silverware this season. While they’ll make the playoffs, the hot form of the Philadelphia Union will hold them back from reaching the top of the Eastern Conference while Los Angeles FC’s star studded roster could run away with the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, meaning MLS titles could be out of reach. But, as one of the best teams on the road in MLS this season, the Red Bulls will hope to keep that success going in the cup.
“This showed me the last few months that I think we grow with our principles and with our typical world of football in a very good direction. We don’t make a big difference between a game at home or a game away. Our match plan, our behavior on the field is very proactive, and we will have the will in more directions. Also away, we have good pressing triggers, when we go in synchronized moments to press, and I think away this crashed in many times the opponent,” head coach Gerhard Struber said about the team’s road success, “This is also what we want to do tomorrow, that we have the will and to be in control also in off-ball moments. Also, I think in transitions and in possession moments, the team is growing and it’s not so easy to handle and manage for other teams here in the league or what we will see in the Open Cup.”
Oscar Pareja got off to a good start to the season but with the team hitting the skids as of late he needs to jog their attack into high gear to get past New York. Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pererya in particular will play a large role because if they don’t create chances for Ercan Kara and Alexandre Pato will have a tough time in the match.
Prediction: Well rested after rotating the side versus Austin FC, Luquinhas and the defense will see the New York Red Bulls to victory. Orlando 1, New York 2
Can Sacramento Republic defend their home pitch?
Heart Health Park will be rocking in Sacramento with a trip to the U.S. Open Cup final on the table. Sacramento will be in front of a sell out crowd and will also be supported by almost every fan base except Sporting Kansas City fans, making this an especially tough job for Peter Vermes. Since Sporting Kansas City are at the bottom of the Western Conference, ten points off of a playoff place, they’re the MLS team most in need of a victory in this competition to save their season.
While injuries have been an issue for SKC, the team has scored the fewest goals (19) while allowing the second most goals in the league (40). A team that is generally known for their defense, it’s easy to see how they’ve fallen to the bottom of the league with only one win in their last six matches. Winning an Open Cup could make a bad season a success but this is also the perfect opportunity for Sacramento to engineer another “cupset.”
Mark Briggs and Sacramento haven’t had the best season so far in a tight USL Championship Western Conference but sitting in a playoff spot while also being one win away from an Open Cup final appearance is the stuff that dreams are made of. Goalkeeper Carlos Saldana is in good form after making the team of the week due to his shutout performance versus Phoenix Rising. Saldana made seven saves in the match which bodes well for containing the SKC attack.
Johnny Russell is the key for Vermes and SKC having scored six goals so far this season. On the other wing Daniel Salloi hasn’t kept up from his MVP-level season in 2021 putting more pressure on whoever is at the nine on the day for SKC. Lately, that has been manned by Khiry Shelton who has yet to score a goal this season. If Sporting Kansas City weren’t in a higher division, Sacramento would likely be the favorites in this match.
Prediction: Sacramento rides their home crowd to a win in this one. It will be nervy to start but once they find their footing, look out. Sacramento 3, Kansas City 1
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