The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has been pretty frustrating for New York City FC thus far. In two appearances, both against the New York Cosmos, the Boys in Blue have faltered. 2015’s matchup saw the Cosmos come back from a 2-0 deficit, forcing the game into extra time. When the additional 30 minutes came to an end still with no winner, the two New York franchises took to penalties where the Cosmos won 4-3.
2016’s matchup was even more enraging. Using a heavily rotated squad that scratched all three DP’s from the team sheet, NYCFC once again lost to the Cosmos to the tune of 1-0 in a game that proved to be the off-note swan song of both Mix Diskerud and Kwadwo Poku.
It is now time for the 2017 Open Cup campaign to begin. This time around, however, it will not be against the Cosmos or any other lower-division club in the area. Instead, the powers-that-be have chosen a much more familiar foe: the New York Red Bulls.
The history between New York City and the Red Bulls has been largely one-sided to this point. In six meetings, NYC has only managed one win— a 2-0 result at home last year. And with this particular match taking place on the wrong side of the Hudson River at Red Bull Arena, the deck may seem very much stacked against the good guys.
But time changes everything. And with the US Open Cup having some unique roster rules — for instance, teams are prohibited from listing more than 5 international players on their team sheet — this mid-week cup showdown could be the one to send the pendulum flying in the right direction when it comes to City’s USOC and Hudson River Derby fortunes.
With that in mind, I have taken it upon myself to do some armchair quarterbacking and predict what lineup may be most optimal when we go up against the boys across the river tonight. The previously-mentioned 5 international players rule has been taken into account. Mind you, all of this is pure conjecture and is merely my personal prediction. But a guy can dream, right?
Also, our own Sam Dunn made his own unique predictions for this game. Be sure to check those out!
GK: Sean Johnson
Though backup goalkeeper Eirik Johansen has started in each of New York City's two Open Cup matches to date, I see SeanJohn getting the start in between the sticks for this one. As a keeper, stamina is not as much a factor as other positions, and playing 3 games in 10 days is not as tiring a task. And all due respect to Johansen, but he has come up short in his previous USOC efforts. I don't feel like the Bronx Blues feel like going out early three years in a row. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.
RB: Shannon Gomez
We haven’t seen much of Shannon Gomez, the young Trinidadian full back who was previously purchased by City from W Connection prior to this following his one-year loan spell with the former. To date, his only cap for the team came in last year’s 1-0 loss to the New York Cosmos in the US Open Cup. The USOC, however, has been an area where teams usually field rotational teams to give players low in the depth chart a chance at possibly ascending the ranks and collecting first-team minutes further down the line. And with RJ Allen apparently in the Vieira Doghouse, this is the opportune time for the pacey, overlapping Gomez to show his manager why the club banked on him to begin with. (h/t @mjbreuer)
CB: Maxime Chanot (international)
The Luxembourg international is perhaps the most underrated player in the entire league right now. Currently at a handsome 4th place on the Audi Player Index standings, Chanot has been a rock at the back this season and has consistently played stellar lock-down D. If you want to beat the rival Red Bulls, this man may be the answer to keeping the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan quiet. (NOTE: Chanot is listed as questionable on the injury report with a hamstring issue. If he can’t go, we’ll bet on Frederic Brillant.)
CB: Alex Callens (international)
Though definitely not as highly-regarded as the man to his right, the superbly athletic Callens has been a perfectly competent defender this season. And although he has made his share of mistakes, you cannot deny that he and Chanot have developed good chemistry as the season has progressed. I'm fine with giving him the second international slot on this list.
LB: Ben Sweat
When perennial starting left back Ronald Matarrita went down in April, it was hard to imagine a world in which NYC could survive without his incendiary speed and hawk-like defense up and down the left flank. Lo-and-behold, in came Ben Sweat. To describe Sweat as just an adequate replacement would be a gross understatement. The man came in and made a case as to why he should be challenging for first-team minutes each week. And though Matarrita has returned to the fold, I expect Sweat to get one last look before returning to regular season football.
CM: Mikey Lopez
Since returning to the team from preseason surgery a few weeks ago, Mikey has remained a workhorse and, in my opinion, has earned a shot to prove his worth. And though Alex Ring most likely will remain as Vieira's first-choice defensive/box-to-box destroyer moving forward, few can argue that Lopez can be just as effective come crunch time.
CM: Tommy McNamara
NYC cult hero T-Mac has produced something of a mixed bag this season. While he has definitely been effective as a substitute, he has yet to really hit his stride as a starter in 2017. But it's a long season, and things change. I expect him to get the nod this Wednesday, if only for old time’s sake.
CM: Maxi Moralez (international)
Words cannot possibly do justice to the contributions of Maxi Moralez this season. Replacing a DP like Frank Lampard, who masterfully proved his worth last year, is an immeasurable, perhaps impossible task. And while #MyNumber10 doesn't contribute as much in the goal-scoring department as the aforementioned Chelsea legend, he more than makes up for it with his immaculate playmaking and exceptional ball control. Two games in a week is no easy task for any player, but the man they call ‘Frasquito’ has done it before. And he is worthy of an international slot.
RW: Jack Harrison
No explanation needed, but I'll give you one anyway: Jack Harrison is the man. Whether it be his skills on the ball, his speed, or his eye for goal, the kid constantly impresses week in and week out. Coming off of an 11-day rest, 20-year-old Jackie Boy should be more than ready to get the job done. Also, because he currently holds an American green card, he does not count as an international player.
ST: David Villa (international)
‘El Guaje’ has yet to play in either of NYC's previous two USOC matchups. In 2015, he was an unused substitute in a match against the New York Cosmos which saw City lose in penalties. A year later, also against the Cosmos, he and fellow DP's Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard were left off the team sheet altogether in an effort to rotate some players into the lineup. The game ended in a 1-0 defeat. Seeing as the Boys in Blue have come up short twice in a row without his services, I don't see Villa missing a third Open Cup match, especially one of this magnitude. And although starting the still unproven Sean ‘Ugo’ Okoli is definitely a realistic option, this is the bet that I’m making. In the words of super-agent Sterling Archer, “Do you want to win an Open Cup match against the Red Bulls? Because’s that’s how you win an Open Cup match against the Red Bulls.”
(Seriously. Google it.)
LW: Jonathan Lewis
We haven't seen much of New York City's latest first-round draft pick, but what little we have seen has been promising. And with current starter Rodney Wallace seemingly hitting a rough patch of form recently, I think this is the perfect opportunity to let the fearless Lewis spread his wings and really show what he can do. Don't forget that Jack Harrison also cemented his bid for being among the league's best young players against the Red Bulls last year. The time for Lewis to grab that brass ring has come.
Ugo Okoli, Ronald Matarrita*, Eirik Johansen*, Kwame Awuah, John Stertzer, Rodney Wallace*, !!!JAMES SANDS!!!
*= Due to Matarrita, Wallace, and Johansen all having American green cards, they do not count against the 5 international players cap.
Do you agree with this list? Do you disagree? Give us your predictions in the comment section below!