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U.S. Open Cup superlatives: Best superhero outfit, top international cooperation & more from the Round of 16

We’re back with the best and wackiest from the Open Cup’s latest round.

7 min read
Sacramento Republic

Every round of the U.S. Open Cup represents a national platform for the talented players from the top to the bottom of the American soccer pyramid. The games mean more, and the effort from the players more than matches the occasion. That intensity and quality was on full display across all eight matches in the Round of 16 this week.

At the same time, the Open Cup can shine an equally bright spotlight on the fans, team employees, and neutral officials that make sure matches go off without a hitch. It’s easy to underestimate how many people contribute to a well-run soccer match. This round underlined their importance alongside the wondergoals and unforgettable Cup-sets.

With another round of Open Cup magic in the books, what stood out? Let’s award some superlatives.

Game of the Round

San Jose and Sacramento share the best inter-league rivalry in all of American soccer. The clubs’ stadiums are about two hours apart. The Earthquakes and Republic have met five times in the last decade, with only one match decided by more than a single goal. With that history in mind, their Round of 16 matchup was an instant classic. 

The match was end-to-end from the start. Sacramento’s Kieran Philips rung a shot off the post in the 10th minute, and San Jose broke the other way just seconds later to open the scoring through Preston Judd. Now 24, Judd is no stranger to the rivalries of California soccer. He came up in the LA Galaxy system, scoring four times in six USL matches against the Republic with LA Galaxy II.

For Sacramento, Mark Briggs cleverly tweaked his lineup, sticking to a broadly familiar back three but adopting a shape with dual strikers and featuring Rodrigo Lopez as the deepest-lying midfielder in the 3-5-2’s central trio. That change was critical for a couple of reasons. For one, it activated Philips’ movement up top; the Huddersfield Town loanee earned a brace as a result.

More importantly, though, Lopez sitting in and setting the tone from the holding midfield allowed fellow center mid Luis Felipe to do damage upfield. A former Earthquake himself, the Brazilian scored the winner when these teams met in 2022, and he picked up a first-half assist on Tuesday to set the tone for the Republic. Luis Felipe seemed to be everywhere, leading all players with 12 defensive actions across 120 minutes.

Still, the Quakes scraped an equalizer in the 80th minute of regulation, and they doubled up in the 100th minute with a go-ahead tally. Entering the halftime break in extra time, Sacramento seemed destined to crash out of the cup.

Briggs kept tinkering, adding the bright creation of Cristian Parano off the bench in the 106th minute and changing the shape into a 4-3-3. It worked like a charm. Parano earned a hockey assist on a Luis Felipe equalizer just 27 seconds into the final period. 90 seconds later, Luis Felipe found Parano on the right edge of the box, where the substitute whipped a cross to the far post to earn a stunning winner.

Between late goals, clever coaching, and player-specific rivalries, this match had everything. This is what the Open Cup is all about.

Best Ball Drop

The Cup is also a celebration of the American game at large, and what better way to shout “U-S-A” than having someone parachute down with a game ball?

For those of you keeping count at home, that’s two versions of the Stars and Stripes: one in parachute form and one as a good ol’ fashioned banner. Dudes rock.

Oddest Delay

To successfully get a pro soccer game off the ground, you need a few ingredients. Two teams, a playable pitch, a handful of referees, and voila. Right?

The medical staff is easy to forget until the worst happens, but they’re a critical presence at any high-level sporting event. At Belson Stadium on Tuesday night, NYCFC II and New Mexico United had to put their game off almost 40 minutes while the medics arrived.

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