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Truck Drivers vs Abu Dhabi: FC Motown's "Cinderella" matchup with NYCFC II

FC Motown started as a co-ed team — club co-founder Dan Karosen tells us why they relish a matchup with Baby Blues in the US Open Cup.

FC Motown defender Zach Perez | Irish Maliborski Photography

On Friday, US Soccer confirmed nine reserve teams from MLS NEXT Pro, the third-division league run by Major League Soccer, will compete in the 2024 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

As first reported by Hudson River Blue, one of those MLS NEXT Pro teams will be New York City FC II. They will face FC Motown (Morristown, NJ) of the National Premier Soccer League on Thursday, March 21 at Montclair State University. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm ET.

The circumstances behind NYCFC II’s participation – and the decision from MLS to field only eight teams in a tournament with 96 participants – remain controversial. But Motown are eager to get the tournament started, and show that the NPSL side can compete against a roster stacked with professional players who signed First Team contracts with New York City FC.

Truck drivers vs Abu Dhabi

Dan Karosen, one of Motown’s co-founders, told HRB that his team is ready to play NYCFC II.

“We are excited to play NYCFC II in the US Open Cup,” said Karosen. “When we went through the permutations of opponents we noted that they would be the toughest possible draw but also the highest profile. Our previous Open Cup games have all been dramatic and expect this game to be no different.”

This won’t be the first time the II’s stood opposite Motown — though it will be the first time it counts. The teams played a preseason friendly last February which ended 2-2 at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.

That game was a meeting between old teammates as NYCFC II midfielder Stevo Bednarsky and forward Julián Gómez both previously played for Motown in the NPSL. There’s a chance both could suit up against their former club once again on the much larger stage.

“We will be taking on a club that reaches back to the Abu Dhabi Group and we started as a Co-Ed team,” Karosen said. “Our guys are plumbers, truck drivers, some work corporate desk jobs, and some are in the early stages of acclimation as new immigrants. The right storytelling and marketing could launch this tourney once grievances are resolved and US soccer comes together for the better of the game.”

Motown's Cup experience

Motown is no stranger to the US Open Cup. The team holds the active record for consecutive qualifications by an Open Division side with seven straight (including the canceled 2020 tournament). The team is also no stranger to silverware. Motown were NPSL National Champions in 2022, and have won their conference the last five seasons.

Karosen did not want to comment on MLS only sending eight teams. However, he notes that the tournament’s return to amateur vs professional in the first round was a huge positive.

For the first time since 2019, professional teams from the third division of US Soccer will enter the US Open Cup in the first round. In the past, Motown and other teams from the Open Division had to win at least one game in the tournament before getting the chance to face a professional side. But this year, Karosen and his team have a will test themselves – and bring eyes to their club – right away.

“It is easier to sell a pro matchup with their recognizable brand like NYCFC II as opposed to a West Chester United or Hudson Valley Hammers,” he explained. “That is definitely a positive from a marketing perspective.”

Karosen knows that the team across the field is just as important as his own when it comes to bringing people in.

“We would expect to lose money on this game as the Open Cup requirements are more robust than an NPSL game. Hopefully, we have a decent crowd as the matchup is great.”

Motown will be seeking its second-ever win over a professional team in the Open Cup later this month.

Rosters gone wild

The months-long deadlock between the USSF and MLS has not been easy on teams, especially at the lower levels. Many have been candid about issues caused by the delays in finding who they’ll be playing and if they will host. The challenges of getting fans to a game, especially mid-week in March, are easy to understand.

For Motown, Karosen explained that the delay was a two-fold issue. Firstly, not knowing the draw meant less time to generate interest and, if hosting, get fans to Montclair State for the game. But more important to him was how it affected the players.

“The delay has hurt us with marketing of the match and also roster construction,” he explained. “It would have been easier to recruit our targets if we were able to articulate that we had a knockout game against a tough pro team.”

Early-round Open Cup games can feature wild rosters. Young players and former professionals are all in the mix to compete. Motown’s squad includes plenty of players with experience playing at high levels. Over the years, it has included familiar names like New York City defender R. J. Allen, who spent 2019 in Morristown.

That eye for experience also applies to the sideline as all three head coaches in Motown’s history previously played for the New York Red Bulls. Head coach and former Motown captain Dilly Duka, a former MLS midfielder who spent 2017 with the Red Bulls, will be coaching his first match on March 21st after getting the job in January.

Cup uncertainty sinks Salem City FC

Still, the delay caused by the uncertainty of MLS participation took its toll and appeared to be too much for one qualified team.

Salem City FC (Winston-Salem, NC) of USL League Two, which has a long history in the tournament under its previous names North Carolina Fusion U-23 and the Carolina Dynamo, qualified for the tournament back in December. However, Friday’s announcement of participants did not include the team. Instead, on Saturday it was announced another USL League Two team, Northern Virginia FC (Leesburg, VA), would be competing instead as a last-minute replacement.

Karosen made it clear this was never in the cards for Morristown. His squad continues to train for the tournament, including recent friendlies with Rutgers University men’s soccer team and New York Red Bulls II, another MLS NEXT Pro side that will participate in the US Open Cup.

“FC Motown did not consider backing out of this tournament as we consider it soccer’s version of March Madness,” the co-founder said. “There is so much potential to market this and sell the Cinderella stories.”