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Preview: Open Cup Returns to Richmond as Kickers Face NC Fusion U-23

Wednesday night the Kickers return to the Open Cup after a two-year forced hiatus.

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What is the Open Cup? – Technically, The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is a knockout cup competition in men’s American soccer. It is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States. What makes it exciting is that it pits teams from all levels of U.S. soccer against each other. Amateur teams if they make far enough could end up facing top-level (MLS) professional teams. MLS teams have dominated the competition since the league began play in 1996. No lower division team has won the U.S. Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999, and none have reached the final since the Charleston Battery in 2008. Our very own Richmond Kickers won the Open Cup in 1995 and in 2011 the Kickers went on the road and beat two MLS Teams the Columbus Crew and Sporting KC. They fell to the Chicago Fire in the semi-final.

1995 Open Cup Winners Richmond Kickers

Opponent: USL2 team NC Fusion U-23 (Beat USL1 Charlotte Independence to advance)
Date/Time: Wednesday, April 20th, 6:30 PM
Last Result: League 0-1 loss to Chattanooga, Open Cup 1-0 win against Northern Virginia FC

Weather Forecast From WeatherBug.com

Three Things to Kick About

  1. Destiny – The last time the Kickers won the Open Cup we had a fellow by the name of Jeff Causey on the team. This year we have this fellow’s son Austin Causey on the team. Coincidence, I think not. Both and Jeff are goalkeepers. Will we see Austin in goal tomorrow? I’m beating not but I’m a notoriously bad bettor. Read about that 1995 Kickers Open Cup win here.
  2. So Tired – The Kickers have had a ridiculously packed start to their season. This will be the 5th game in 18 days. Three of those game required travel to such exotic locales as NOVA and Chattanooga. The Kicker then has a league game on Monday in Charlotte. Managing tired players while still getting the win is going to be a challenge for Coach Sawatzky. Added to the challenge is a couple of injuries on the Kickers roster. It will be very interesting to see the starting lineup and how substitutions are handled.
  3. Underdogs Bite – Underdogs in this tournament have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They nearly always come in with a chip on their shoulder and aren’t afraid to make up for a lack of talent with a few (or more than a few) hard fouls. Open Cup games in these early rounds are rarely pretty but they are often exciting hard-hitting affairs. I expect this to be more of the same.
  4. Bonus Kick About Point – Our buddies over at River City 93 have an interview with NC Fusion U-23 coach Chris Williams. Definitely worth the quick read to learn about the visitors. My favorite quote. “We are looking for hungry players who have been “passed by”. Many of our players have had opportunities and trials at the clubs we are playing against! For some reason or other, they have been passed by. We understand the nature of professional football, and timing is everything. For our players, that motivation to show those coaches who have passed them by is such a driving force behind why our players need to play with a chip on their shoulders. We simply say to our players, “Show them! Show them why they should have picked you!”

Prediction

Making predictions in the Open Cup is tough. The NC Fusion roster is only 2 months old and they’ve had less than a dozen training sessions. Can grit and determination triumph over professionals that have been playing seemingly back-to-back games? We saw that Charlotte Independence faltered so that makes us pause. Ultimately I think Kickers will start outstanding goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald and he will be the difference. The game has the potential to go into stoppage time (no draws in Open Cup play) and the score will be close, regardless.

Kickers 1 – NC Fusion 0

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.