Orlando City will begin its 2018 U.S. Open Cup campaign on Wednesday night when the Lions travel down to Miami to face off against Miami United FC of the NPSL. The Florida-based portion of the bracket this year saw a second and third round that included several big upsets. Let’s look at how we got to this point.
So far, the Open Cup bracket has been a regional affair, designed to help the smaller clubs make the necessary trips. The state of Florida headed into the tournament with nine teams; FC Miami (PDL), The Villages SC (PDL), FC Kendall (USASA), Red Force FC (USASA), Miami United FC (NPSL), Lakeland Tropics (PDL), SIMA Àguilas (PDL), Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL), and Orlando City SC (MLS). With all teams from the professional leagues automatically qualifying, the Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC had previously played in the tournament. However, the NASL went on hiatus, forcing the two teams to enter the NPSL where only 18 of the league’s 98 teams qualify through performance the previous season. On March 30, the three former NASL teams (Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC 2, and New York Cosmos B) were granted entry into the tournament, taking part in a play-in round.
Three teams that play in the Florida bracket include names that would be recognizable to Orlando City fans as the rosters featured either former Orlando City players or academy products currently attending college. The Jacksonville Armada employ former Orlando City first team defender Mechack Jerome and former academy player Michael Melvin. While The Villages’ roster includes academy product Isaque Couto. SIMA, Orlando City’s de facto U-23 team, features 15 players that played in the club’s academy at some point, as well as David Graydon, who previously played for Orlando City U-23 in the PDL.
The Florida part of the 2018 Open Cup bracket began with the play-in round where the Jacksonville Armada defeated The Villages SC, 2-1, and Miami FC 2 beat FC Miami City, 3-1. The domination by the former NASL teams continued in the first round where Miami FC 2 beat Red Force FC, 4-0, and the Armada handled SIMA, 2-0. Joining those teams with first-round victories were Miami United FC, which beat FC Kendall, 5-2. The Lakeland Tropics played the lone game outside of the state, losing 3-0 to Midland-Odessa Sockers FC, an NPSL side from Texas.
The first big upset in the state came from the Armada defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 1-0 in Jacksonville. While the Armada were able to keep certain professional players from the NASL days, it was still a fourth division team beating a second division team. The biggest upset so far is Miami United FC beating a Miami FC 2 team owned by Riccardo Silva, and led by former USL and NASL Head Coach Paul Dalglish. That Miami FC side includes 10 players that continued with the club from last season’s 2017 NASL season.
The magical run by Miami United FC continued in the third round when it defeated the Jacksonville Armada, 2-0 in Jacksonville. With Orlando City not applying to host the fourth round match, the NPSL side now has the enviable ability to host the state’s lone first division team.
With the Jacksonville Armada and Miami FC keeping several players from last year’s NASL season, as well as the inclusion of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the odds were against Miami United FC making it to the fourth round. Now, the team gets the opportunity to host an Orlando City team that has not taken the competition seriously under Jason Kreis and hasn’t won a game since the fourth round of the 2016 edition. This provides a great opportunity for the young team to play the role of giant killer and advance to the round of 16 for the first time in its history.
Orlando City, likely with a much weaker team, will look to avoid the embarrassment of losing to a lower division team for the third consecutive year. A win would move the Lions into the round of 16, one win away from the quarterfinals — the furthest the club has ever reached when it lost to the Chicago Fire in both 2013 and 2015.
The Florida portion of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup has been full of surprises. There are now two teams left from the state in the competition, and one that was certainly not expected to get this far. It’s quite possible that Wednesday could include the biggest upset of the tournament thus far, with one of three non-MLS or USL sides taking on the state’s lone MLS team. We’ll see when the two teams meet up on Wednesday night at Ted Hendricks Stadium in Miami.