Two of the most surprising teams in American professional soccer this season – Miami FC and FC Cincinnati – meet Wednesday night at FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.
Both teams play in second-division leagues and advanced to this stage with back-to-back tournament upsets of Major League Soccer opponents. No matter who wins, it will be the first time since 2011 that a second-tier team reaches the Cup semifinals.
Miami, under the direction of Italian legend Alessandro Nesta, has an explosive offense and clinched the NASL Spring Season championship with a 7-0 rout of second-place San Francisco last weekend. Brazilian forward Stefano Pinho scored four goals in that match, and had a hat trick against Orlando City in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Miami has outscored its Cup opponents 11-5 over four matches.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has not conceded a goal in regulation thus far in the tournament, and two matches stretched to 120 minutes. They won their first three matches 1-0 and won the Round of 16 game against the Chicago Fire in a penalty kick shootout, with goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt making three huge saves.
“We’re under no illusions as to how difficult a task it is,” Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said of Wednesday’s game in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Going to play Miami at Miami, they’re almost as good, if not better than the majority of MLS teams this year.
“We got through Columbus, we got through Chicago. We know this one is going to be very, very difficult. …But anything can happen in one game. It’s cup soccer and we’ll gladly embrace the challenge.”
It will be the first tournament road game for FC Cincinnati, which plays in the United Soccer League. Their previous four matches were played at University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, where they average 19,887 for league games and drew 32,287 for the game against the Fire.
Miami players are hoping South Florida fans turn out in big numbers Wednesday. A spirited crowd of 9,004 was on hand for the win over Atlanta United.
“It should be an advantage for us playing a home, rather than going up there in front of their big crowd,” said Miami FC midfielder Richie Ryan. “We fed off the atmosphere the last game, and hopefully, we will be able to do that again. Cincinnati has had a similar path in the Cup, beating two MLS teams, which is a tough task. Neither team is going to take this lightly, as it is a quarterfinal of a national cup.”
The fact that two second-division teams are in the quarterfinals shows how narrow the gap is between MLS, NASL and USL, Ryan said.
“Before we played Orlando City, (Nesta) told us, `You’re every bit as good as that team,’’’ Ryan said. “A lot of the players in MLS have played in NASL and USL, and we have players on our team with MLS experience more than capable of competing in that league. The difference is MLS has a few designated players who get paid a lot to be the difference makers.
“But we’ve shown that our team has players who can be adventurous and create magic moments, too. ”
Miami FC vs. FC Cincinnati
What: U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal
When: Wed. July 12, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Riccardo Silva Stadium at FIU
Tickets: MiamiFC.com and box office