Did you see Nirvana at a club in Seattle before anybody had ever heard of them? Is your favorite restaurant a taco truck on Federal where the lengua tacos don’t appear on the menu - the owner makes them special if you ask? Do people check out your sartorial style on the street and then politely ask if they can take a picture and post your outfit on Instagram?
Or... do you just like soccer?
If any of that applies to you, then you positively have to go see the US Open Cup tomorrow night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, when the Rapids take on Oklahoma City Energy in the fourth round.
The Open Cup is the secret gem of American football. US Soccer, which oversees the tournament, doesn’t spend much to promote it. And they also haven’t put much effort into packaging and selling the TV rights, despite the ready-made drama of the knockout format, coupled with the awesome potential for Cinderella stories. The matches take place on weeknights, too. The Colorado Rapids have only drawn modest attendance, and so they don’t invest heavily in promoting the Open Cup, either.*
So only soccer hipsters that are ‘in-the-know’ are out at DSGP for the Open Cup. And that’s just fine with me. The matches are great, the excitement is real, and the price - 15 bucks - can’t be beat.
There’s also something great about a smaller, more passionate crowd. These folks are the true Rapids hardcore. And even though they know they’re likely to see Pablo Mastroeni roll out a lineup heavy with players reserve roster, they don’t mind a whit. That’s part of the excitement.
Another part of the excitement is in glimpsing some lower-tier talent from the opposing side that are hungry to make a mark at this higher level. My first Open Cup match was in 2014, when the Rapids faced a then-USL affiliated Orlando City squad. One player in particular stuck out - a small, feisty number ten from Trinidad and Tobago named Kevin Molino. Orlando’s 2013 included future MLS strikers CJ Sapong and Dom Dwyer. Every USL and NASL team in the tournament is harboring a few future MLS players that might just catch some GM’s eye and make the leap to the first division. And they know it, which is why the little guys tend to raise their game for the Open Cup.
OKC Energy got here by knocking off the Rapids Centennial Cup foes, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, and before that, by beating California amateur side Moreno Valley Futbol Club. The Rapids, like all first division MLS teams, enter in the fourth round of the competition. For more on the earlier rounds of the US Open Cup, check out our coverage here.
The game Tuesday night will be Colorado’s first ever meeting with OKC Energy, a team founded in 2013. OKC features young FC Dallas midfielder Coy Craft, who is on loan to the lower-league Energy side. Craft has been a regular starter with the USMNT U18 and U20 teams, and he’s been highly touted as a player with tremendous potential. Polish striker Wojciech Wojcik might be their best attacker, and they also have former Seattle Sounder Andy Craven on the roster. Former Rapids left back Anthony Wallace is also with the Energy, so Tuesday will serve as a reunion with his friends from that 2010 MLS Cup team like Pablo Mastroeni and Conor Casey.
Colorado is likely to roll out some of their younger players, considering that many players will just be returning from the international break, and others are on the shelf with injury. The Rapids recently brought back Dennis Castillo who was out on loan in Colorado Springs, for the match, so I expect him to start, along with back-up goalkeeper Zac MacMath and rookie defensive midfielder Sam Hamilton. Colorado might well roll out Dillon Serna and Dillon Powers, and Caleb Calvert is likely to start at striker. After that, the club will likely mix in their regular starters, who will be eager to get into a match after the significant layoff for the international break.
So I look forward to seeing you Tuesday night in Commerce City for the Open Cup.
I mean, you know, if you’re cool enough.
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* For this reason, some MLS teams hold their Open Cup matches at smaller, more intimate venues. The Seattle Sounders, for instance, often hold their Open Cup matches at Starfire Complex, the home of their USL club, Seattle Sounders 2. Some have called for the Rapids to do the same, but since KSE doesn’t own an alternate venue in Denver, there’s less money to be made in holding the match at the soccer stadium of the University of Denver or Metro State.