Five years ago, FC Cincinnati shocked MLS opponents multiple times in the U.S. Open Cup before stumbling in the semifinals against New York Red Bulls. On Tuesday, the “magic of the cup” returns to bless the Queen City. FCC welcomes former USL foes Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC to TQL Stadium.
While it is the “oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States”, the U.S. Open Cup had been on hiatus over the past two years due to pandemic protocols. However, the borders between leagues have been reopened, and the lower levels in the United States have participated in the first two rounds of the national tournament. Over 100 teams in total will participate for the first time in modern Cup history, leading to the final played in September.
FC Cincinnati comes into the Open Cup match with a slight bit of momentum during its heaviest schedule congestion. Despite going down to 10 players, the Orange and Blue managed a steadfast 0-0 draw against Atlanta United over the weekend. Possession was controlled by Atlanta, but FCC rode six solid saves by Alec Kann to swipe a point on the road.
Health could be a priority in this midweek matchup. Defenders Alvas Powell and Geoff Cameron were unable to start due to injury, leaving the back line in question. Forward Dom Badji got the start at left back for the first time this season, but John Nelson subbed on for Badji to make his first appearance of the year.
The first match in the USOC has traditionally gone well for FCC—since their debut in the competition in 2016, the Orange and Blue have averaged at least 2 wins every year in the competition (9-4) and have won their opening match all four years. While this is the first USOC match in TQL Stadium, FCC have played all of their opening matches at home and are 7-2 at home in USOC matches.
However, the last time FC Cincinnati faced USL Championship competition ended in a late disaster. The Orange and Blue crashed out of 2019 Open Cup competition in the Round of 16, losing to Saint Louis FC 1-0 on a last-second goal. Some of the faces in that game could come back to haunt FC Cincinnati…
Despite their lack of silverware in their trophy case, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC have shown they can be a solid fixture in USL soccer. The team has enjoyed peaks (a USL PDL regular season title in 2004) and valleys (temporary hiatus in 2007) since their debut in 1999. However, the arrival of Bob Lilley from Rochester altered the team’s playing style and landscape.
Lilley’s attention to defensive play made Rochester Rhinos a powerhouse in the old USL Pro league with three regular-season titles and a USL Cup in 2015. His promotion to Pittsburgh in 2018 turned a team that often missed the playoffs into a perennial playoff squad. After returning from hiatus in 2007, Pittsburgh averaged 1.27 points per game before Bob Lilley. Since his arrival, the team has averaged 1.90 points per game.
The 2022 USL Championship season has started well for Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds are currently second in the Eastern Conference (4-1-1, 13 pts.), behind only Lou City in the standings. However, their last match ended in a 1-0 loss to Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night, their first loss of the season.
The team is led in scoring by forwards Dane Kelly and Albert Dikwa (who was on the Saint Louis FC squad that knocked FCC out of the Open Cup in 2019). However, the last real connection to FCC is forward Russell Cicerone, also from that 2019 Saint Louis FC squad. Cicerone enjoyed his best season in the USL Championship last year (16 goals and 8 assists in 32 matches).
Historically, Pittsburgh has yet to travel deep into the Open Cup. Pittsburgh’s deepest foray came in 2001 when the Riverhounds managed to upset Colorado 2-0 in the second round. Pittsburgh made it to the quarterfinals, only to bow out against Chicago 3-2. Since 2001, the Riverhounds have not made it past the fourth round of the Open Cup and have not beaten an MLS team. However, Pittsburgh did manage to win their opening match in the 2022 Open Cup, a 2-0 win over Maryland Bobcats FC.
As much as the bad blood between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh is felt more in baseball and football, the rivalry in soccer has been more one-sided. Lilley often had FCC’s number at Rochester, going undefeated in four matches (3-1-0). However, even Lilley has not been able to alter Pittsburgh’s luck against Cincinnati. Between 2016 and 2019, FC Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have played nine times. However, FCC has yet to lose to the Riverhounds (5-4-0).
FC Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have faced each other only once in the Open Cup. Back in 2018, the Orange and Blue marched into Highmark Stadium capitalized on goals by Jimmy McLaughlin, Lance Laing, and Daniel Haber to take a 3-1 victory home.
Due to the congested league schedules, the starting lineups could be a bit shaken compared to past listings. A victory would likely match up FC Cincinnati with either the winner of Detroit City vs. Columbus or Lou City vs. St. Louis City SC 2.
US Open Cup – 3rd Round
7:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 19th, 2022, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Expected Starting XI lineups:
FC Cincinnati (5-3-2): Alec Kann; Zico Bailey, Nick Hagglund, Ian Murphy, Tyler Blackett, John Nelson; Yuya Kubo, Junior Moreno, Alvaro Barreal; Brandon Vazquez, Brenner.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (3-4-2-1): Kevin Silva; Shane Weidt, Arturo Ordonez, Jelani Peters; Luke Biasi, Daniel Griffin, Marc Ybarra, Wyatt Borso; Russell Cicerone, Kenardo Forbes; Albert Dikwa.
Out-of-Market Video Stream: ESPN+
(As noted by FCC’s own Tommy Gerhalter on Twitter, ESPN+ appears to be the only outlet for viewing the U.S. Open Cup match.)