May 28, 2013, 11:45 AM EDT
One of the most confusing things for new soccer fans to understand are that teams cam play in multiple competitions at once. In England, for example, teams like Chelsea and Manchester United can take part in four different competitions at once.
There’s the English Premier League — which is structured just as you might think. 38 league games, 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw. No playoffs. Winner take all.
Then there are “Cup” competitions, which are simply bracket-style setups like the NCAA basketball tournament. In England, there is the FA Cup (which is open to any and all organized teams, even Sunday bar league squads), the League Cup (open to teams in the top four divisions) and one of two European cups, either the Champions League (which just finished on Saturday) or the next-step-down Europa League (which Chelsea won a few weeks back).
Things aren’t that complex in the United States, but tonight the Union embark on the only domestic cup competition available to them.
This year marks the 100th year of the Open Cup, and tonight is technically the third round of the bracket. All 16 American teams in Major League Soccer (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have their own cup in Canada) earned byes into the third round, where they will meet teams from the lower levels of American soccer — some professional, some semi-pro and some amateur. Game locations are decided by a straight-up coin flip, which is a great change from prior years, where MLS teams would “buy” hosting rights from small teams looking for a few extra bucks.
Ocean City claims it was supposed to host this game, but was denied on a technicality. That might have been even more fun, to be honest, considering Ocean City’s Carey Stadium one-ups PPL’s Commodore Barry Bridge view with a cool one of their own.
Last year, the Union made a great run to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual winner Sporting Kansas City.
The Union host the Ocean City Nor’easters tonight at PPL Park. Expect John Hackworth to use a new-look lineup, as teams are wont to do during the early stages of this tournament. We’re likely to see backup goalie Chris Konopka face a team he once played for, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Roger Torres, Don Anding, Greg Jordan, Matt Kassel Christhian Hernandez and a few other rarely seen players tonight.
Truth be told, the Union “should” win this game with relative ease. But out of the 16 MLS vs. non-MLS games tonight, there will absolutely be a few upsets. Many of the lower level teams have made a name for themselves in this tournament — including the Rochester Rhinos (hosting New England) and Richmond Kickers (hosting DC United). Ironically, both of those games pit an MLS team against their affiliated minor league club (one of the Union’s affiliates, Reading United, are on the road at the New York Red Bulls tonight).
Should the Union win tonight, they would go on the road to face either Richmond or DC United in the round of 16 next month.
If you’re a season ticket holder, you already have tickets to this game on your card, so have fun (I will miss it, sadly). If not, then you’ll be able to walk up and buy a ticket, I’m sure. The game isn’t on TV, but will be streamed live online.
The cup is a fun change of pace from league play, and while the crowd tonight might be smaller than usual, it will likely be even more into the match than usual. So if you’re looking to change things up on a Tuesday night, PPL Park might be a fun place to start.
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