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2 berths in next round of U.S. Open Cup at stake Wednesday

Scrappy semi-pro sides try to prove their worth against top pro competition

Three Arizona teams will be playing in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. At most two will still be in the tournament on Thursday morning. That’s the way the tournament works. Pele called it the beautiful game but it can be cruel at times.

Your crack TucsonSentinel.com sports research department has the match-ups for you, including each team's all-time Open Cup record.

Sporting Arizona FC vs. Phoenix Rising FC

Sporting Arizona: 4 wins, 6 losses; best showing: 2nd Round (1998, 1999, 2006, 2010)
Phoenix Rising FC: 4 wins, 4 losses; best showing: 4th Round (2014)

Sporting Arizona FC sounds like a new team, but it is a rebranded Arizona Sahuaros, who have played in the U.S. Open Cup in previous years (the above records reflect that).

Something else probably looked familiar when Sporting beat FC Arizona last week: a good part of the Sporting line-up, including goal scorer Jon Guse and former FC Tucson star Dom Papa, played for FC Arizona last season. 

Sporting includes several ex-professional players including MLS Cup winner Andrew Weber and David Paul. Throw in players like Papa who have played (and scored) against professional teams, and you have enough experience to give the Phoenix pro-side a challenge.

Phoenix Rising had a good Open Cup run in 2014 when they were known as Arizona United. That year, they made it into the fourth round before succumbing to two goals by Gyasi Zardes. They’ve had their struggles too: a loss to FC Tucson in their first Open Cup and one to scrappy Chula Vista FC in 2015.

The team recently lost a bid to be in MLS, but they haven’t lost their hunger. They just earned back-to-back shutouts on a road trip to play Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The line-up will likely feature Didier Drogba, in his last year as a professional soccer player. This will be his last chance to add a U.S. Open Cup to his four FA Cups.

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The match will be Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

FC Tucson vs. Las Vegas Lights FC

FC Tucson: 4 wins, 4 losses; best showing: 3rd Round (2013)
Las Vegas Lights FC: First year in Open Cup

FC Tucson’s best showing in the tournament was in their first year playing in it. That year, they beat Phoenix FC (a loss that predicted many of the troubles with that team), San Antonio Scorpions until Giles Barnes and the Houston Dynamo defeated them in the third round. 

One thing that FC Tucson has in its pocket is preseason play in Arizona. That gives many Tucson players experience against pro sides that other PDL teams don’t have.

The other advantage they have is that they are playing a brand new team with many new team struggles. Despite the fact that many of the players have pro experience, particularly in Mexico, the team has still only managed two wins since the season started in March. 

The team features one familiar name from the what-might-have-been file: one-time teenaged phenom Freddy Adu. Adu had a number of middling spells at European teams (and Philadelphia!) since his MLS Cup winning time at DC United 12 years ago. Adu has managed three appearances so far for the lights.

The team is managed by a father-son duo: Coach Isidro “Pidri” Sánchez and Technical Director José Luis “Chelis” Sánchez. The team also includes one-time FC Tucson goalkeeper Thomas Olsen, who earned a .083 goals against average in 2016.

They’ll just have to wait until the final

FC Tucson and Phoenix FC/Arizona United SC/Phoenix Rising FC developed a bit of a rivalry in the Open Cup. The first rounds are usually determined by geography to cut down on travel for the lower division teams. FC Tucson beat Phoenix FC in 2013, Arizona United got the upper hand in 2016 and, well, neither team wants to talk about 2015.

This year, it’s a bit different. So much so that US Soccer officials took to clarifying the case on Twitter:

Due to rules that prevent teams with a shared ownership (@PHXRisingFC (USL) & @FCTucson (PDL), in this case) from playing each other unless both reach the Final, the 3rd round possibilities involving teams from AZ, NV & SoCal were re-drawn.

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FC Tucson, should they beat Freddy Adu and the Lights, will not be travelling to Phoenix for the third round, but instead play the winner of Wednesday night’s match between pro club Orange County SC and frequent FC Tucson opponent Golden State Force. 

What ever happened to that guy?

Wednesday night’s line-up also feature a match between New Jesey-based FC Motown and Penn FC (the recently renamed Harrisburg City Islanders). Motown FC got there with a 2 – 0 win over the New York Red Bulls under-23 team. Both goals were scored by former MLS player Dilly Duka.

Duka played for the US at the under-20 World Cup, earning three starts and a goal against Cameroon. His professional career took him from Columbus to Chicago to Montreal (where he was a Champions League finalist) and back to Columbus. His final MLS season last year consisted of one appearance for Columbus and three for the Red Bulls.

Duka was the hero of the team in that round, but will be unable to suit up on Wednesday night. He will be serving a suspension after being red-carded in the closing minutes of the match.

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Ricardo Chao

FC Tucson players take a water break in a match against Albuquerque last week.