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Where the Heart and Brain Clash: The US Open Cup's Round of 16 starts today

Open Cup Digest #5: NYCFC II host New Mexico United, Charleston Battery play Atlanta United, Indy Eleven face Detroit City FC — at least two non-Division I teams will advance.

Sometimes the Baby Blues wear white | Courtesy

Open Cup Digest #5

The 2024 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is down to 16 teams. Across the country, all three levels of the US Soccer pyramid will be represented in games on both Tuesday and Wednesday. After two cupsets in the last round, the number of Major League Soccer teams in the competition is down to six, and the tournament Quarterfinals are guaranteed to have at least two non-Division I teams.

One of those teams might be New York City FC II. The last team standing from the Division III MLS NEXT Pro, NYCFC II’s narrow win last round was their second cupset over a Division II side from the USL Championship. It made the Baby Blues $25,000 richer as the farthest advancing Division III team in the 2024 tournament. Later tonight, the challenge facing the Baby Blues will be steeper as they host New Mexico United, also of the USL Championship, who are currently one of the best teams in the league.

The winners of that game will know their path to the final after the next draw, which will probably take place on Thursday — the date and time are to be determined. Just like in the last draw, the first team picked will have hosting priority in the next two rounds, which in this case will be the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.

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)
Tue, May 21, 7:30 pm ET at Belson Stadium in Queens, NY

Tickets available here

The young guns versus the Open Cup pedigree. A team taking their first swing of things against a side that was forged in its own inaugural tournament. Either NYCFC II or New Mexico United will reach the tournament Quarterfinals. This is one of two guaranteed slots for non-MLS teams in the last eight.

New York City II are the only team left in the tournament that played in the first round. That means they have the longest resume of wins in the US Open Cup this year, which is as follows:

The Baby Blues are clearly taking this tournament seriously. The team postponed last week’s league match against Toronto FC II to focus entirely on the tournament. However, it’s going to be interesting to see how much they can fix the issues that surfaced in their Open Cup wins.

NYCFC II allowed at least two goals in two of the four open cup games, against NYRB II and Hartford Athletic. In the regular season, the team allow 1.5 goals per game on average, which is part of the reason why the team is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference right now.

The backline has consistently shown weak points with players such as Alexander Hauschild and Christian McFarlane (who is currently with the England U-17s). Now, should fans be mad that two teenagers can’t consistently stop full professional players? No. But then expecting Tomás Romero to get a second straight clean sheet is a tall order.

Jonathan Shore leads the team in goals for the regular season with four. In the Open Cup, he’s got no goals in the three games he’s played. Meanwhile, JJ Jiménez is tied for the Open Cup Golden Boot with four goals, to go along with the three he has in the regular season.

New Mexico United are a team that probably no one ever thought would play a competitive match against any New York City outfit. But one of the beauties of the Cup is a City Football Group team hosting a club from Albuquerque at a Big East college stadium.

History-wise, I’ve already gone over New Mexico’s background in the Open Cup Digest #4. There are a few familiar faces on the squad that might enjoy the return to the Five Boroughs, including defender Chris Gloster.

Chris Gloster returns to New York City chasing trophies with New Mexico United
The former NYCFC defender, and 2021 MLS Cup champion, discusses returning to face one of his former teams in the US Open Cup and how he’s settled into life with his new club.

In the last Open Cup Digest, I said NMU didn’t have a killer player who could put them over the top. Sure enough, former FC Cincinnati defender Zico Bailey scored a brace last round against a Major League Soccer team: A defender was the biggest threat and he earned’s Player of the Round because of it.

Scottish international Greg Hurst has four goals for New Mexico in the regular season. While he only played one game in the Open Cup so far, he’s coming off a game last weekend against Oakland Roots SC where he scored in under 120 seconds. That’s how NMU have created some distance in the Western Conference standings between themselves and third place, all while having a game in hand.

New Mexico made it as far as this point in the tournament in style. First, the side beat amateurs Lubbock Matadors SC with three second-half goals. Then in the last round, the team scored three times in the first half en route to a 4-2 cupset win over Real Salt Lake at home in Albuquerque.

Like I said before, NMU made their name in the US Open Cup. The team’s first tournament in 2019 saw the side reach the Quarterfinals by beating two MLS teams. That was the best performance by a team from the state since the New Mexico Chiles reached the semifinals in 1991. Since then, the last two tournaments have been similar, with the highlight being a Round of 32 loss to Austin FC in the MLS side’s stadium.

Prediction: Considering the caliber of teams both New York City FC II and New Mexico United beat to get here, the visitors have the edge. New Mexico are having the better season, have the better stats, and overall have more cohesion as a unit. The only knock I can give them is coming across the country for a midweek game. But even then, the team was training at Belson on Monday so it's not like they have jet lag. Somos Unidos, 3-1.

Charleston Battery (USLC) vs Atlanta United (MLS)
Tue, May 21, 7:00 pm ET at Patriots Point Soccer Complex in Mount Pleasant, SC

One of six matches featuring MLS vs USLC this round. Charleston Battery of the USL Championship welcome Atlanta United of MLS to their humble abode. Both teams are in a drastically different place in their seasons, and this game means something different to each one.

Founded in 1993, three years before the inaugural MLS season, Charleston Battery holds the honor of being the oldest continuously operating professional soccer club in the United States. Over the last three decades, the team remained within the United Soccer League system, jumping between Division II and III.

The Battery have four league titles to their name: Three at the Division III level (1996, 2010, 2012), and one at the Division II level (2003). They only finished as the runner-up one time in a playoff final, when the team lost to Phoenix Rising FC in the USL Championship Final last year.

Since that loss, Charleston bolstered their roster and remain one of the best teams in the league. The Battery are undefeated this season through eleven games in the USL Championship, and are first in the Eastern Conference. The team is tied for the least goals allowed (7) and second in most goals scored (26) in the whole league.

A few ex-MLS names joined the team in the offseason, including goalkeeper Adam Grinwis (Orlando City), forward Diego Gutierrez (Portland Timbers), and forward Jackson Conway (Atlanta United). Defender Leland Archer has been with the Battery since 2018, and played over 100 games with the club while earning three caps with the Trinidad and Tobago national team.

Then there’s forward Nick Markanich, who leads the league in goals with 12. Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis leads the league in clean sheets with five, and is second in the league with a save percentage of 76.7%.

One name many people reading this website will recognize is forward MD Myers. This past February, Charleston acquired the defending MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner from NYCFC II for an undisclosed fee. This season, Myers is second in goals scored for his team, with six in the league.

The Battery reached this stage in the tournament by beating USL League One side South Georgia Tormenta FC thanks to an MD Myers hat-trick. The team enjoyed a bye into the Round of 32 via their performance last season in the USL Championship.

This year marks the Battery’s 23rd appearance in the Open Cup. While they have never won the tournament, they have come close on three occasions. The team finished runner-up in 2008, when they lost to DC United, 2-1, at RFK Stadium — the Battery are one of only three non-MLS teams to reach the final since 1996. Charleston also reached the semifinals in 1999 and 2004. The latter of which was a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire in extra-time via a Dipsy Selolwane golden goal.

Atlanta United are one of six MLS teams that remain in the tournament. They have a legacy in the Open Cup, which they might need to lean on as the team hope to correct a downward-spiraling year.

Head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s third full season at the helm has seen a lot of turnover on the roster. Players such as Esequiel Barco and Derrick Etienne Jr. were sold off. New players with experience such as defender Derrick Williams and midfielder Dax McCarty were brought in alongside additions from within. They aren’t working out.

In league play, Atlanta’s last win was on March 31 against the Chicago Fire. Since then, the team have gone winless in eight including four draws and four losses. That run of bad luck began with a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium against New York City FC. The team is currently 12th in the Eastern Conference.

Reaching this round was pretty simple for Atlanta. They crushed defending USL League One finalist Charlotte Independence, 3-0, at Fifth Third Stadium, the home of Atlanta United 2.

Atlanta United is a former US Open Cup champion, after hoisting the Lamar Hunt in 2019 when they beat Minnesota United FC. However, their last two tournaments saw poor results. The team lost to Nashville SC in the Round of 32 in 2022, their first tournament back after winning in 2019 and following two COVID cancellations. Last year, Atlanta was one and done after a cupset by second division Memphis 901 FC in extra time.

Prediction: This is the part of the tournament where the heart and brain clash. However, the fact is Atlanta United are a bad team this year, and Charleston Battery are a good team this year. Atlanta might be starting to realize the Open Cup, and possibly Leagues Cup, are clear ways to save their season. However, a desperate team doesn't make a good team. Up the Battery, 2-1 AET.

Indy Eleven (USLC) vs Detroit City FC (MLS)
Tue, May 22, 7:00 pm ET at IU Michael A. Carroll Stadium in Indianapolis, ID

The only other match to not feature an MLS team has two sides from the second-division USL Championship, each with a decade of history. Both Indy Eleven and Detroit City FC have never been in the Round of 16 before, which means one will reach the US Open Cup Quarterfinals for the first time. For one team, this run is a bright spot in what has been a turbulent year. For the other, it's another chance to piss people off.

Celebrating their tenth season of play, Indy Eleven have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. The team from Indianapolis, IN has recently found out their city's mayor asked MLS for an expansion team and also officially killed their planned stadium project. As the team’s future remains murky, despite the addition of a new billionaire owner, shaky ground isn’t new for the Eleven.

Founded in 2013, Indy played in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for four seasons before joining the now-named USL Championship in 2018. Outside of one finals appearance in the 2016 NASL Soccer Bowl, Indy have never been a team that got results. They only made the postseason four times in their history. But they have a dedicated following. The Brickyard Battalion supporters group pre-dates the team by two years and is one of the reasons why the city of Indianapolis has a professional soccer team.

While the BYB and other fans saw a struggling unit at the start of 2024, the squad turned a corner in recent months. Indy Eleven now sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, and have won their last four matches. While those wins have come against suspect teams such as North Carolina FC and Miami FC, they brought the team's record to 5-2-4 (WDL). The team’s last match was a 4-1 home win over Hartford Athletic this past weekend.

The offense is led by forward Augustine "Augi" Williams and midfielder Jack Blake, both of whom have six goals each. Former New York Red Bulls II and Honduras national team striker Douglas Martínez has four goals this season across all competitions.

Other notable names this season include defender Adrián Diz (Cuba national team), midfielder Ben Mines (New York Red Bulls), and forward Sebastián Guenzatti (New York Cosmos). Also, midfielder and team captain Tyler Gibson is a former member of the San Francisco Deltas, who famously played one season in 2017, won an NASL championship, and folded.

There are also three MLS loanees currently: Goalkeeper Hunter Sulte and forward Tega Ikoba from Portland Timbers, and midfielder Laurence Wootton from the Chicago Fire.

To get here, Indy used an early goal to beat Chicago Fire FC II on the road in the Third Round. In the Round of 32, two more early goals helped Indy beat San Antonio FC, 2-0 to reach the Round of 16 for the first time.

Detroit City FC need little introduction. Based in Hamtramck, MI, the former amateurs-turned-professionals have a cult following — and back it up on the field.

Founded in 2012, DCFC was started by a group of five Detroit residents who wanted a club of their own that would promote the city and help build community through soccer. That began with a National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team playing at a local high school. They eventually grew into a semi-pro outfit playing in historic Keyworth Stadium, with fan ownership and a ravenous supporters culture led by the Northern Guard Supporters (NGS). The group’s mentality is “no one likes us,” and they really don’t like MLS.

In 2020, Detroit City made the jump to professional status by joining the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). They won two season championships, then jumped to Division II in 2022 when they joined the USL Championship.

This year, the team are having their best season since joining the USL Championship, even outside of this USOC run. Detroit is third in the Eastern Conference with only one loss in eight games played. They’ll be going into this round coming off two straight draws, one against Loudoun United FC, and one against defending USLC champions Phoenix Rising FC.

There’s good news on the home front, as DCFC announced plans to build its own stadium in Detroit with a planned opening set for the 2027 season. In June, the team is hosting a friendly against Liga MX side Club Universidad Nacional, aka Pumas UNAM.

Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez is one reason why the team are having success in both the league and the Open Cup, as he leads the team in goals for both competitions. Other notable names on the roster include defender Matthew Sheldon, whose decade-long career across the US, Germany, and New Zealand puts him firmly in the journeyman category. Former Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder Brett Levis and Chicago Fire FC loan forward Victor Bezerra will also be options.

Detroit also have two players from the Tri-State Area on the roster in midfielder James Murphy (Scotch Plains, NJ), and defender Rhys Williams (White Plains, NY).

Detroit reached this stage by beating hated rival Michigan Stars FC in the Third Round. The team followed up that performance in a historic battle against defending Open Cup champions Houston Dynamo FC. Playing on the road, Detroit City came behind twice, and a late equalizer from Rodriguez evened the game at 3-3 to force extra time. In the eventual penalty kick shootout, backup keeper Carlos Saldaña made a critical save and eventually scored the game-winning penalty in the eleventh round to advance.

It will be interesting to see if Saldaña is in the net once again. Otherwise, the job might fall to the same man who has been between DCFC’s posts since the NPSL — Nate Steinwasher.

The team are participating in their seventh US Open Cup and 2024 has yielded its best performance to date. The team’s previous best was reaching the Round of 32 in 2022, including knocking off the Columbus Crew at Keyworth.

Prediction: Both teams are emblematic of lower-division professional soccer. Both would relish a chance to be one of the last eight teams in the competition. But Detroit City FC has the weapons to do it. Indy Eleven have the better offense (21 goals for vs DCFC’s 11 in the league), but Detroit have the superior defense (7 goals allowed vs Indy’s 19 in the league). Whether it is Saldaña or especially Steinwasher, I’ve learned many times not to doubt the DCFC defense. They score enough, and they’ll do that here. Detroit wins on the road, 2-1, and I pray they get to host a Quarterfinal at Keyworth.

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