Harrisburg, Charlotte and Dayton join MLS sides in quarterfinals
TAMPA, Fla. – The Harrisburg City Islanders, Charlotte Eagles and Dayton Dutch Lions all advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night, with the trio of USL PRO clubs becoming the last non-MLS clubs standing in the 99th edition of the historic tournament, continuing the tradition of success the league’s clubs have found in the past 20 years.
All three teams went to overtime to earn their victories, with the City Islanders defeating their second consecutive opponent from Major League Soccer in a 3-1 win against the New York Red Bulls at Skyline Sports Complex. Sainey Touray scored a pair of goals, including what proved to be the game-winner in the 94th minute, while goalkeeper Nick Noble made seven saves to lead the City Islanders into the next round.
Harrisburg’s success is certainly not unprecedented. Bill Becher’s side has now reached the quarterfinals of the Open Cup four times in the past six seasons, with Tuesday night’s victory the second time in three years the City Islanders have defeated the Red Bulls. After its thrilling win in a penalty shootout against the New England Revolution in the third round on May 29, another side the City Islanders have defeated twice in the past six seasons, Harrisburg has taken five victories against MLS clubs in the past six seasons.
For USL PRO’s other two quarterfinal clubs, however, their runs in the tournament this season are unprecedented. The Charlotte Eagles had never moved beyond the third round prior to this season, but on Tuesday night a late goal by Mauricio Salles gave them three wins in three weeks in Texas as they defeated the San Antonio Scorpions 2-1. The Eagles had previously defeated the PDL’s El Paso Patriots in the second round on May 22, and Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas 2-0 in the third round on May 29, with Nate Thornton having scored in all three contests.
The Dutch Lions are also breaking new ground. In only their second season as a professional club, Dayton advanced with a 2-1 victory against the PDL’s Michigan Bucks as Joel DeLass’ goal in the 97th minute proved the difference. After their come-from-behind victory against former Open Cup champions the Columbus Crew in the third round, the Dutch Lions are now set to meet Sporting Kansas City on June 26 in what will be the biggest game in the club’s brief history.
All three of the USL PRO clubs are aiming to emulate the success found in previous seasons by USL clubs. Just last season, the Richmond Kickers reached the semifinals of the tournament, defeating the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City on the road to get there, to add to their championship season in 1995.
USL PRO’s Rochester Rhinos and Charleston Battery have also achieved remarkable success in the Open Cup, with the Rhinos remaining the only lower-division club to have won the tournament since clubs from Major League Soccer began entering the competition in 1999. Rochester also reached the semifinals in 2009 and the quarterfinals twice (2004, 2005).
Charleston, meanwhile, was the last USL club to reach the Open Cup Final in 2008, as the Battery made a remarkable run past the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas and the then-USL First Division Seattle Sounders, only to fall to D.C. United 2-1 in an enthralling final. Charleston also reached the semifinals of the tournament in 1999 and 2004, and the quarterfinals in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
In addition to its Open Cup success, Charleston has also proven a consistently strong performer against MLS and international sides, finishing ahead of Chicago Fire and Toronto FC in the Carolina Challenge Cup in 2011. Other USL PRO sides have also found similar success, with 2011 champion Orlando City taking exhibition victories against the Philadelphia Union and Newcastle United last year.
Now Harrisburg, Charlotte and Dayton will face MLS opposition again, with five sides from the United States’ top division also advancing from Tuesday’s fourth round. The City Islanders will visit the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park looking to upset their MLS affiliate, while the Eagles will face the challenge of CD Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center and the Dutch Lions will visit Sporting Kansas City at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, with all three sides hoping to emulate the success of their predecessors in the oldest ongoing national soccer competition.
USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO features 11 teams in 2012 and an unprecedented six teams with more than a decade of operational experience. The league is focused on aggressive but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and USSF standards, which are located in markets that further promote regional league play. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is affiliated with the USSF.