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Maintaining Balance Between the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup

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How will the Lions balance squad rotation and focus between U.S. Open Cup play and making the playoffs?

MLS: U.S. Open Cup Final-New York Red Bulls at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Open Cup is now upon us. The fourth round draws have been made, and the MLS teams now know who they face in the tournament. The U.S. Open Cup poses a very interesting dilemma for MLS teams, and this year, it is complicated even more for some teams with players being called up for World Cup duty.

Orlando City will be without Amro Tarek (Egypt) and Yoshimar Yotun (Peru) for an unknown period of time. The big question is, how will the Lions prioritize the remainder of the season? Will they focus on the MLS regular season and see how the chips fall in the Cup, put some focus on a run for the U.S. Open Cup, or work to make both USOC and MLS playoffs a reality?

Orlando has history in the U.S. Open Cup, and that history traces back a good way — far further than most will have witnessed, including me. In the 2011 U.S. Open Cup, Orlando City was a USL side. In fact, this was the team’s inaugural season in Orlando.

The Lions made it to the third round, where they lost to FC Dallas as one on the last 16 teams in the tournament. However, they did go on to win the USL championship. In 2012, the Lions lost in the third round to Sporting Kansas City. This was not as deep into the tournament as the third round was the final 32 teams, not the final 16 that year.

Continuing our journey, here are Orlando City’s results for the past five U.S. Open Cup tournaments:

2013 US Open Cup
2014 US Open Cup
2015 US Open Cup
2016 US Open Cup
2017 US Open Cup

Have you noticed the trend here? The deepest the Lions have made it in the tournament was 2013 and 2015, when they made it to the quarterfinals. Other than that, the Lions have not made it past the round of 32. In fact, since joining MLS in 2015, they have been knocked out of the tournament two out of the last three years by NASL teams. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers beat the Lions in extra time in 2015, and Miami FC beat the Lions, 3-1, with current Lion Stefano Pinho scoring a hat trick last year. Interestingly enough, Miami FC would also go on to beat Atlanta United in their next match in the tournament.

As a quick reminder, this tournament takes place during a time of year that has not treated the Lions very well. May, June, and July have been rough months for the club. This time frame also stands as the critical time for clubs to build points as they head towards the end of the season and get across the red line.

In case you are absolutely new to soccer and MLS, the red line is the the line drawn between sixth and seventh place in the conference standings with the top six teams heading to the MLS Cup playoffs. Since joining MLS in 2015, Orlando City has made the playoffs, unfortunately, zero times. It is a reality that we are all brutally aware of. If the Lions did prioritize MLS Cup versus the U.S. Open Cup, it is difficult to say that it benefited the club.

As the team is about venture into its first match in U.S. Open Cup play, and without an OCB team to pull some players from, what will the club prioritize? For a team that has not made the playoffs to date, it may seem the obvious choice, but an Open Cup win is an interesting option. Could the club work for the double? Absolutely, but is that the smart option to take? Is there a focus that the club should take? Let me know your thoughts below.

Poll

Should Orlando City focus on the U.S. Open Cup, MLS playoffs, or both?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    We want the Cup!
    (4 votes)
  • 51%
    We want the playoffs!
    (21 votes)
  • 39%
    Swing for the fences and go for both!
    (16 votes)
41 votes total Vote Now