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Soccer Warz: The US Open Cup’s Round of 32 begins today

Open Cup Digest #4: New York City FC vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, New Mexico United vs Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes vs Oakland Roots SC — this is soap opera television.


Open Cup Digest #4

The 2024 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is back, and the Round of 32 is here to help me forget about Saturday’s game down in Fort Lauderdale. This is the last round in which new teams will enter the competitions, with the 16 winners from the last round joined by the eight remaining USL Championship teams and eight Major League Soccer teams.

New York City FC II continue to shock the world in their tournament debut, and still remain in it after an intense extra-time win in the last round. They return home for a match against a team probably no one ever thought they’d ever play, under any circumstance: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC of the second-division USL Championship.

Sadly, NYCFC II are the only team from the Northeast remaining in the competition, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other games to watch for.

For the first time in this tournament, the teams know what the possible match-ups are for the next round, that being the Round of 16 which will be held between May 21-22. This is the point at which things get very real, with the chance for fortune and glory within reach of plenty of clubs.

Let’s go through the matchups, and what fans can expect to see. If you can’t go to a game yourself, the contests will be broadcast live on the federation website, as well as on and

New York City FC II (MLSNP) vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (USLC)
Wed, May 8, 7:30 pm ET at Belson Stadium in Queens, NY

Tickets available here

The last MLS NEXT Pro team standing, New York City FC II truly embodies the phrase playing with house money — nobody expected them to go this far. The Baby Blues face a struggling Colorado Springs Switchbacks in the Round of 32, with the priority to host the next round going to whoever wins this game. That means a possible date with Major League Soccer side Real Salt Lake.

I know my colleagues here at Hudson River Blue will have a phenomenal game day preview coming up for NYCFC II. Considering this is the fourth Open Cup Digest where I’ve talked about them, I don’t think there’s too much more to say.

Since the last digest, things improved a little for the Baby Blues in their MLS NEXT Pro regular season, with New York City now in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The team beat two-time MLSNP finalist Columbus Crew II, 2-0, but followed that up with a loss to Crown Legacy FC. That was Legacy’s first win of the season. Last weekend, the team held Atlanta United II to a scoreless draw but lost in a penalty kick shootout, 4-2.

Right now, the big factor to watch is the prize money situation in the US Open Cup. In total, up to five teams walk away from the tournament with cash payments. The champion gets $300,000 and the runner-up gets $100,000. Then, the farthest advancing teams from the other divisions of U.S. Soccer (Division 2, Division 3, and the Open Division) each get $25,000 each. Of note, if one of these teams also reaches the USOC final, they get the $25,000 and the $100,000 or $300,000.

The only team to claim any money so far is El Farolito SC of the National Premier Soccer League as the best-performing Open Division side. Next up will probably be Division 3, which has four teams remaining in the competition including NYCFC II.

According to the 2024 U.S. Open Cup handbook:

“If two or more teams advance to the same round, the following order of steps is used to determine which single team will be awarded the prize money. If the tiebreaker is applied to teams that entered in different rounds, only results from rounds in which both teams completed should be considered.

  1. Teams with most overall victories
  2. Teams with most overall victories + draws*
  3. Team with most regulation victories
  4. Goal differential in tournament proper
  5. Goals scored in tournament proper
  6. Prize money to be divided equally among the teams

* A game that ends with kicks from the penalty mark is recorded as a draw.

Remember that New York City FC II won two of their USOC games in regulation and one in extra time. Under these rules, the following is the priority order for the $25,000 prize money for Division 3:

  1. South Georgia Tormenta FC (USL1)
  2. New York City FC II (MLSNP)
  3. Union Omaha (USL1)
  4. Charlotte Independence (USL1)

All three of Tormenta’s wins were in regulation time, which gives them priority over NYCFC II. Omaha needed penalty kicks to advance last round, which put them in third, while Charlotte is in last after needing penalty kicks to advance in the last two rounds.

Of course, all of this can change based on how the Round of 32 shakes out this week. But if all four of the Division 3 teams are eliminated this week, Tormenta will get the prize money.

It’s up to you to decide if a team operated by a first-division MLS team getting a $25,000 reward over an independent side without that same financial backing is a good or bad thing.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC might be the higher-division side in this contest, but this team have very little going for them in 2024 besides celebrating their 10th season in the USL Championship.

The history of the Switchbacks was fairly quiet outside of a few notable moments. The team made the playoffs their first two seasons, then followed that with a four-year playoff drought between 2017 and 2020, before finding some success — including a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2022. Throughout their history, the team’s fan base continued to grow. As of last season, the average crowd at the fairly new Weidner Field is close to 8,000 people per game.

This year, however, is not going so well. The team started the season on a six-game winless streak, including a season-opener loss to lowly The Miami FC. The team won their last two games, which lifted them out of the league basement, but those results came against fellow Western Conference basement-dwellers Oakland Roots SC and El Paso Locomotive FC.

Still, Colorado’s roster has a few notable names. Midfielder Devon Williams previously played for New York Red Bulls II during their run to the USL Cup in 2016, and has 35 caps with the Jamaica national team. He’s not the only local. Players such as winger Duke Lacroix from New Egypt, NJ, and defender Matt Mahoney from Buffalo, NY, are also with the squad. The three MLS loanees on the team include defender Delentz Pierre (Real Salt Lake), defender Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), and forward Luis Zamudio (D.C. United)

Historically, the Switchbacks don’t fare well in the Open Cup. In their seven tournament appearances, only two of their seven wins came against professional teams — including one against reserve side Real Monarchs SLC in 2015. The rest have been against amateur teams, mostly local qualifiers from Colorado such as Harpos FC and FC Denver.

In their last two tournaments, the team was upset by USL League One side Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC. The first of those in 2022 was actually Hailstorm’s first-ever game as a professional team.

Prediction: Putting aside my personal dislike of reserve teams being here and just looking at the facts, it’s hard to pick against New York City. They have home-field advantage, and Colorado Springs are on short rest after traveling across the country for a mid-week game. Plus, the Switchbacks are still one of the worst teams in the USL Championship. I don’t even think this will be a back-and-forth like it was against Hartford last round, just take NYCFC II to win by multiple goals, 2-0.

New Mexico United (USLC) vs Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Wed, May 8, 9:00 pm ET at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, NM

This game is directly connected to the one above: Whoever wins Wednesday’s game at Belson will host either New Mexico United or Real Salt Lake. In a funny coincidence, the two teams will be playing on a baseball field for the chance to possibly face NYCFC II.

New Mexico United is a prime example of what a USL Championship team could and should be. Based in an untapped market with a burgeoning academy system and dedicated fanbase, New Mexico also plays some pretty damn good soccer.

Founded in 2018, they began their playing life the following season. The team from Albuquerque have become one of the strongest-attended teams in the entire league. After leading the league with over 12,000 fans per game in their first year, the team is still pulling in the crowds, finishing the 2023 season with an average attendance of 9,619, good for the fourth-highest in the USL Championship.

Fans have had a lot to cheer about what they see on the field. While the team finished below .500 for the first time last season, it was still enough to qualify for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The team then lost a close road match to San Antonio FC, 1-0.

This year, things have gone pretty well so far with New Mexico sitting in second place in the west. Crushing losses to the Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies are the only blips on the team’s 5-1-2 record.

This year, the notable names on the roster include former New York City FC left-back Chris Gloster, who spent two seasons in the organization. NYCFC 2019 MLS SuperDraft pick Abdi Mohamed is also on the squad.

Funnily, Brooklyn native Anthony Herbert played at both Fairleigh Dickinson University and St. John's University, but never for either of the local MLS programs. Notably, he’s had a long career in the Trinidad and Tobago youth national team system, and has one senior team cap to his name.

Others include former Minnesota United FC defender Abu Danladi, FC Cincinnati defender Zico Bailey, and CF Monterrey winger Jacobo Reyes.

To get here, New Mexico scored three extra-time goals to beat amateurs Lubbock Matadors SC, 3-1, in Round 3 earlier this month.

New Mexico is no stranger to pulling off the unthinkable in the US Open Cup. The team’s inaugural 2019 season saw them reach the Quarterfinals, beating Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas along the way, all while playing five matches on the road. That run, along with the continued success of the team, helped launch the career of former head coach Troy Lesesne, who went on to lead the New York Red Bulls and is currently head coach of DC United.

Real Salt Lake is one of eight Major League teams that will compete in the Open Cup this year based on how they performed in the 2023 regular season. So far, they’ve proven to possibly be the best of the bunch.

After starting off winless in three of their first four games, the Utah side now sit atop the Western Conference with 21 points. They are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, including three straight wins going into this weekend’s game.

The writers at Wasatch Soccer Sentinel have done a great job covering this team, and you should read them for in-depth coverage. But here’s what I can do in a few sentences. Cristian Arango, who signed with the team in the middle of last season, is now a league leader in goals, assists, shots, and shots on target. The Colombia national team player would be a clear MVP front-runner right now if it wasn’t for Lionel Messi making history with Inter Miami CF. (Now let me internally scream for a moment as I remember the match from over the weekend.)

The team’s best US Open Cup performance was in 2013 as part of a cursed runner-up treble. Salt Lake lost that final to eventual wooden spoon-winners DC United, finished the regular season second in the Western Conference just one point behind the Portland Timbers, and lost the MLS Cup Final to Sporting Kansas City in penalty kicks.

Prediction: Both teams have started 2024 well, and the smart money is with the higher-division team. Despite playing on the road, Salt Lake will still likely have the third-highest goal scorer this season in “Chicho" Arango to start or sub on. New Mexico has potential but lacks the killer player that can push them over the edge in the final third. RSL will move on to play either NYCFC II or Colorado Springs.

San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) vs Oakland Roots SC (USLC)
Wed, May 7, 10:00 pm ET at PayPal Park in San Jose, CA

I talked about this potential match last round, and thanks to the calm hands of Jamie Watson, the random draw has made it so: Oakland Roots SC will travel down the 880 to face the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.

The Oakland Roots SC are a popular team, known nationally for their brand identity, and locally as a shining spot in Oakland’s professional sports scene. It's hard to root against the team who are truly rooted in Oakland.

This season in the USL Championship has been challenging for the side who now sit 10th in the Western Conference with a 2-2-5 record. The only positive spots in the regular season have been an opening-day win over Indy Eleven, and a win over lowly El Paso Locomotive FC. However, a late goal by Jonathan Rodriguez netted the team a 2-2 draw against San Antonio FC last weekend to give the team some momentum heading into this huge clash.

The incredibly diverse roster of the Roots, which counts players from 12 countries, includes winger Irakoze Donasiyano (Nashville SC, Burundi national team), defender Neveal Hackshaw (Trinidad and Tobago national team), and defender Bryan Tamacas (El Salvador national team). Two players with local ties to the Northeast include goalkeeper Paul Blanchette (New York Cosmos) and midfielder Jeciel Cedeno (New York Red Bulls II).

Late last month, the team made news when they signed former Major League Soccer and U.S. Men’s National team forward Dom Dwyer.

Oakland enters this round after beating amateur phenoms El Farolito SC last month. That was a come-from-behind win that needed extra time for the USLC team.

This will be the Roots’ third-ever US Open Cup appearance, and first time ever playing an MLS side. Last year, the team also beat El Farolito in their first game in the tournament, but then fell to fellow USLC side Sacramento Republic FC in the Third Round.

The San Jose Earthquakes are probably the worst MLS team of the eight that will compete in the 2024 Open Cup this year. Bad defense, and a disappointing head coach, have left the Bay Area side treading water in the Western Conference.

This season, San Jose opened the year by losing eight of their first nine games, and allowing two or more goals in every one of those matches. Recently, things have gotten slightly better. A draw against Nashville SC and win over Los Angeles FC last weekend has put some positive vibes in fans of the two-time MLS Cup champions.

However, at the time of this writing, San Jose are still tied for last place in the league with the New England Revolution.

In Open Cup play, the Quakes have never made it past the Quarterfinals. In fact, they aren’t even the best-performing team in their city. That honor goes to the 1992 Open Cup champion San Jose Oaks.

It turns out the Quakes know this and are doing something really cool. Tuesday’s match will feature a halftime ceremony honoring past Open Cup champions from the area: The San Jose Oaks (1992), El Farolito SC, fka C.D. Mexico (1993), and Greek American AC (1994).

While we, as fans, can talk about this match in terms of stats and probability, the real story is off the field. The majority owner of the Quakes is John Fisher, the businessman at the center of controversy in the city of Oakland. Fisher also owns the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball, which are set to leave Oakland after this season for a pit stop in Sacramento before landing eventually in Las Vegas.

Fisher has been accused of actively sabotaging his own team’s value, alienating the fanbase, and not working with the city of Oakland on any plans for a new stadium. Combine that with the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association’s move to San Francisco, and the Raiders of the National Football League’s move to Las Vegas, and the city is less than thrilled with Fisher.

There are also recent rumors that Fisher and Co. are actively trying to sabotage the Oakland Roots’ attempts to expand. These include reportedly interfering with the USL team’s move to the Oakland Coliseum next season, and allowing the Quakes’ reserve team to relocate to the East Bay area (playing just outside of Oakland) as The Town FC — that team is led by a scorned former owner of the Roots.

This is Soccer Warz incarnate. This is soap opera television. This is cinema.

Prediction: Maybe it's because I’m a romantic, but I can’t trust the San Jose Earthquakes in this match. While the team is coming off a win, it's tough to say if they turned a corner or if LAFC just had a bad day. Oakland’s season isn’t faring much better, but they've at least shown they can be a second-half team. Plus, they are just more likable. Truthfully, both teams are bad. But so long as Oakland stays away from any more red cards (after seeing three red cards in their last four games across all competitions), I’m calling a cupset, 2-1.