CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story listed FC Motown's U.S. Open Cup record incorrectly as 1-2. This has been updated to account for the team's 2017 tournament appearance as a fully amateur side with further clarification regarding the team's history.
On Wednesday, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced the First Round match-ups for the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament to be played between May 7-8.
This round includes teams from the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), USL League Two (USL-2), the newly created third division league USL League One (USL-1), and teams that qualified through “local qualifier” tournaments (small amateur teams from state-run leagues mostly).
Furthermore, it was determined that New York Red Bulls U-23, the top academy side in the RBNY system that competes in USL-2, will play 2018 NPSL national finalist FC Motown on May 7 at the New York Red Bulls’ Training Facility in East Hanover, NJ. This will be a rematch of last year’s First Round match between these two teams that Motown won, 2-1.
RBNY U23 will be taking part in the competition for a fifth time while Motown will be making its third straight appearance and third overall. Both teams qualified for the tournament due to their 2018 performances in their respective leagues.
While I’ve already spoken on the team’s 2018 USL-2 season (back when the league was called the Premier Developmental League) in a previous Red Bulls Nation blog, it goes without saying that the team barely made it into the tournament. It leads the Mid Atlantic Division in goals with 45 and finished in second place, just over the Long Island Rough Riders, to qualify for the Eastern Conference Championship. The team beat Black Rock FC in the conference semifinal before falling to eventual league finalist Reading United AC, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While impressive, the result initially left New York out of the US Open Cup due to other teams being ranked higher based on performance. But after a Canadian team won the league title, opening up a spot since only American teams can take part, and a few of the aforementioned teams folded the group punched its the ticket.
Not much is expected of the young academy side in the upcoming competition. The team has only advanced past the First Round once back in 2014, the same year it won the league championship during its’ final season in the NPSL. In the team’s five tournament games it has been outscored 10 to five with an overall record of 1-5.
An overarching factor for why the team hasn’t made it far in the tournament could be because the early tournament rounds happen in the springtime. The team is comprised of Red Bulls Academy prospects and NCAA soccer players from the northeast that are looking to train and improve during the college off-season. When the tournament starts in April, many of the players in the latter category are still in school and aren’t able to join the squad.
For example, while the team’s roster has not been announced yet for the upcoming year it can be assumed last season’s leading scorer Brian Saramago, who knocked back 11 goals in 19 appearances, will miss the early tournament rounds due to him currently studying at Loyola University in Maryland. Same goes for the team’s second-leading scorer John Denis who scored five goals last season and is entering his senior year at Columbia University. Omir Fernandez, one of the team’s best offensive and set-up player, left Wake Forest University after two years and signed a professional contract with the Red Bulls’ first team in January meaning he won’t be returning either.
Not all hope is lost and a loss is not a foregone conclusion. The RBNY academy system still trains and develops some of the best prospects in the country and there is talent on the pitch every time the team plays. But early on in the year academy teams such as RBNY U23 aren’t easy to predict since turnover and college commitments are always a factor.
Motown, on the other hand, has higher aspirations and more eyes watching following its’ 2018 season. After winning the tightly contested Keystone Conference in both the regular season and playoff tournament, the team made a deep run in the NPSL National Playoffs defeating well-known teams like New York Cosmos B and FC Mulhouse Portland before eventually falling to Miami FC 2 in the championship game.
During the regular season, the team was lead by a stellar offense that put up 40 goals, the most in the Keystone Conference and tied for the second most in all of NPSL, while only conceding five goals in 10 games, tied for third least in the league. Players with a professional experience like former New York Red Bulls’ star Dilly Duka and USL/NASL veteran Julius James, played alongside younger stars such as Howell, NJ native Chris Katona, and Matt Nigro, whose performance earned him the NPSL’s 2018 Golden Ball award.
The Open Cup has been pretty favorable to the Morristown, NJ side. The team has advanced to the Second Round in both of its’ appearances, defeating NJ Copa FC and RBNY U23 in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Overall, the team has a record of 2-2 in tournament play.
[[Fun fact, the team merged with fellow N.J. side Clarkstown Eagles in late 2017 when Motown joined the NPSL – the same year both teams played in the Open Cup tournament (Motown qualified through the local qualifier tournament). The Eagles lost their First Round match against Reading United AC in its only tournament appearance, meaning all the team history combined has the organization with a record of 2-3 over two tournaments.]]
Heading into 2019 the team has experienced some talent turnover, such as Duka who recently signed with Albanian club FK Partizani Tirana, but has compensated by adding a wealth of varied talent. On April 5, the team announced the signing of former New York City FC and Orlando City SC defender R.J. Allen to the team who had 70+ appearances in the MLS during his three seasons. He isn’t alone as Motown has also picked up Staten Island native Sidney Rivera, David Greczek, and former Harrisburg City Islander forward Mike Olla among others.
For the younger players, some have been sharpening their skills in New York City’s Cosmopolitan Soccer League during the off-season too. Katona currently leads the CSL’s top division in both scoring (18 goals) and assists (11) through 11 games with Cedar Stars Academy. Even some Red Bulls prospects have been putting minutes in with the league all in an attempt to play better and prepare for the upcoming season.
The First Round match between New York and Motown will be streamed live on ESPN+ alongside all 2019 U.S. Open Cup games. Multiple local teams will be taking part in the early tournament round as well. Local amateur side West Chester Predators will travel down to Baltimore to play FC Baltimore Christos (NPSL) on May 7, New York Cosmos B (NPSL) will be playing Black Rock FC (USL-2) on May 8 in Manhattan, NY, and two Pennsylvania teams will face-off when Reading United AC (USL-2) plays Philadelphia Lone Star FC (NPSL) in Reading, PA on May 8.
The New York Red Bulls will join the tournament in the Fourth Round alongside every other Major League Soccer team. Professional teams that are owned by a higher division team cannot take part in the tournament, meaning New York Red Bulls II and nine others will not join the tournament in the Second Round with the rest of the USL Championship teams.