Fire

Why the U.S. Open Cup is awesome

Why the U.S. Open Cup is awesome

The U.S. Open Cup struggles to get love and attention from American soccer fans so it's no surprise that it's completely off the radar for average sports fans.

However, what the single-elimination knockout competition provides is rare among American sports. Amateur teams can qualify for the tournament and face off against pro teams. Minor league teams can take on their big brothers from Major League Soccer. Upsets happen and fun match ups like D.C. United taking on amateur team Christos FC can create stories that typically only occur in movies.

This is similar, in a way, to how amateur golfers can qualify for the U.S. Open via sectional tournaments. However, these are teams, not individuals. Collecting and organizing a good team is difficult enough for a regular adult league, but think of what a team like Christos FC has to do to prepare for a professional team like D.C. United, as they did Tuesday in the fourth round of the tournament.

The team is based in Baltimore and is comprised of regular people working regular jobs, but also playing amateur soccer at a high level. Christos FC beat a minor league team, the Richmond Kickers, in the second round of the tournament and beat another amateur team, FC United, in the third round.

FC United is based in Chicago and some its staff has ties to the Chicago Fire (former player Gonzalo Segares, for one). FC United plays in the PDL, a summer league for college players. So FC United's players are still training regularly and some of the players are pro prospects despite the amateur status.

Meanwhile, Christos FC set up a GoFundMe page just to make the trip to Chicago to play that match, which Christos won 1-0. From Nick Eilerson's story in the Washington Post, there are more challenges than just travel expenses.

"Christos FC does not conduct practice, doesn’t scout opponents or study film. Game-planning typically occurs a few minutes before matches, when coaches pick a lineup based on who could get off work to show up."

The U.S. Open Cup is more than just fairytale stories though. It's also a chance for regional rivalry games that wouldn't have a chance to take place otherwise.

The Fire begin Open Cup play Wednesday at Saint Louis FC. With St. Louis not having an MLS team, and the city recently voting against a stadium plan that would likely have led to an expansion team, the only way these two cities, which have a rich history of rivalries in sports, can play is in the Open Cup.

Last year the Fire beat Indy Eleven, another regional city which the Fire couldn't go up against in MLS. The regional design of the tournament creates a number of these matchups in the early rounds.

The downside to the Open Cup is the lack of fan support. The Fire failed to draw big crowds to the three home games in the competition last year. The Fire made it to a fourth straight semifinal, where they went on the road and lost to New England.

Partially as a result of the small crowds at Toyota Park last year, the Fire will be playing a potential game in the next round in Peoria. If the Fire win Wednesday and win the hosting coin flip for the next round, the June 28 game will be hosted by Bradley. The Fire have played Open Cup games in Peoria before, most recently in 2011.

Part of the lack of fan interest is the fact that the games are played on weekdays as opposed to weekends, which also draw much better for regular MLS games. Part of it is the lack of knowledge in the tournament. Another factor going against it is that many teams use it as a chance to play younger or reserve players while resting key players for MLS games. Not all fans are excited to pay money to watch minor league or amateur soccer teams.

The U.S. Open Cup may never be as big as the FA Cup in England or many of the cup competitions in the rest of the world, but it is still a unique competition in American sports. Besides, what's not to like about the Christos FC story?

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

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USA TODAY

Fire's 2018 goalkeeper picture becoming clearer

When the Fire announced that three goalkeepers, Jorge Bava, Matt Lampson and Stefan Cleveland, all had their options picked up for 2018 and the team was negotiating a deal to bring back Richard Sanchez, something had to give.

It appears that has been sorted out with the news that Sanchez is in fact back with the Fire, but also that it appears Bava has left the team.

On Monday the Fire announced Sanchez signed a contract guaranteeing him for 2018 and 2019 with a club option for 2020. The 23-year-old made two starts with the Fire in 2017 after he was brought in on Aug. 11.

As is fairly common practice in MLS, the option on Sanchez's initial contract with the Fire was for more than what he signed for on this new deal, according to a source. This is similar to what happened with Razvan Cocis and Luis Solignac in the past two years. Those players both had their options declined only to be brought back for a lower salary number.

Sanchez had mixed results on the field, making one of the better goalkeeper performances the Fire had in 2017 in his debut in San Jose, but then struggled in the regular season finale in Houston. He's young enough to believe he can improve, especially at goalkeeper where players tend to hit their peak older than field players.

As for Bava, it seems all but official that he has joined Liverpool FC Montevideo in his home country of Uruguay. The team's official account tweeted out a welcome to Bava, although there has been no word from the Fire yet.

Bava, 36, made eight starts before being benched in favor of Lampson and missed the second half of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. Once Bava's exit is finalized the Fire will have three goalkeepers instead of the overloaded four.

When Bava was hurt and Sanchez was brought on as a late-season replacement, Lampson and Sanchez emerged as the two candidates for starting goalkeeper. It appears that battle will continue in 2018.

Lampson has far more professional experience with 51 MLS appearances while Sanchez only made sporadic starts in lower divisions in the U.S. and Mexico before joining the Fire. Sanchez was a fairly well-regarded prospect having played with Mexico's Under-17 and U-20 teams at youth World Cups.

Not counting Bava, the Fire have 19 players under contract. Bastian Schweinsteiger's situation remains unofficial, although reports have said he is likely to return. The MLS combine has completed two of three rounds of matches with the draft taking place on Friday.

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

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USA TODAY

Fire reportedly trade prized homegrown prospect Cam Lindley to Orlando

For the past two offseasons, Cam Lindley’s name has popped up as a potential key addition for the Fire.

The North Carolina sophomore has been one of the top midfielders in college soccer the past two seasons and has established himself as a good MLS prospect. The Fire held his homegrown rights after he traveled from Indianapolis to play with the Fire’s academy in high school, even helping the U-18 team win the Development Academy national title in 2015.

The Fire failed to sign him last offseason, with Lindley electing to return to college. When the college season ended and negotiations started up again this winter, Lindley turned down the Fire’s homegrown offer. Initially, it was expected that meant he was returning to school, but now Paul Tenorio has reported that the Fire traded Lindley’s homegrown rights to Orlando.


In Tenorio’s reported deal, which he said was still being finalized, the Fire receive right back Rafael Ramos and allocation money from the Lions. The move means Orlando gets the exclusive rights within MLS to negotiate with Lindley and if he signs he will still count as a homegrown for Orlando.

Lindley did not train at all with the Fire in the past year, instead electing to stay in North Carolina when he played in the PDL (a summer league for college players). In 2016, Lindley played with the Fire’s PDL team. The Fire’s three other best homegrown prospects who played in college this past season, Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman and Mauricio Pineda, all spent some time in training with the Fire in 2017. Pineda stayed after practice multiple times with coach Veljko Paunovic in one-on-one drills. Lillard, the only senior of the four, signed his homegrown deal with the Fire earlier this week.

On the one hand, the Fire get a player in Ramos, who is 23 years old and could help provide depth at both right back and left back. The Portuguese player made 39 MLS appearances in three years with Orlando, including 24 starts in 2015, but injuries contributed to a lack of playing time last season when

Ramos played 55 MLS minutes. A hamstring injury limited him in 2016 and again in the 2017 preseason when he was expected to be the starter at right back. Once he returned, Scott Sutter had established himself at the position.

Ramos vented his frustration at a lack of playing time in an Orlando Sentinel story in October.

On the other hand, Lindley is a player who was racking up the accolades at UNC. As a freshman he tallied seven assists and was named national Freshman of the Year by Top Drawer Soccer and a first team All-ACC pick. This season, he had seven goals and 13 assists and was a first team All-American by United Soccer Coaches, Top Drawer Soccer and College Soccer News in addition to being named ACC Midfielder of the Year. The Tar Heels made it to the College Cup semifinals both years.

The midfielder could be good enough to receive interest from European teams, which could make it good business for the Fire to get something from within MLS for him instead of letting him go for free.

If the trade materializes, it will be a failure on the Fire’s part to convince a talented young player who spent time in the team’s academy to sign, but also a success in getting something of value in return for a player who may not want to sign with the team.