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Commentary: U.S. Open Cup missed an opportunity with Colorado Rapids the Loons’ next foe

... 'why not let the organizers at U.S. Soccer put their finger on the scales and create early-round matchups that pit the Davids against the Goliaths?'

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There were two juicy possible matchups for Minnesota United going into the fourth-round draw of the U.S. Open Cup on Thursday. The Loons, however, ended up with the third, routine opponent.

Instead of getting one of two upset-hungry USL League One sides in the North Centra draw — Union Omaha and Northern Colorado Hailstorm, which each knocked off MLS teams in the third round this week — Minnesota will face Colorado Rapids at Allianz Field on May 10 or 11. The Loons beat that same Western Conference rival 3-1 in MLS action last Saturday.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United defender Bakaye Dibassy (12) celebrates his goal during the first half against Colorado Rapids on Saturday at Allianz Field in Saint Paul.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports

Union Omaha, a defending USL champion which knocked off the Chicago Fire in penalty kicks on Tuesday, will face Northern Colorado, a brand-new team which topped Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. That means two USL sides will get a spot in the Round of 16 — good for them! — and two MLS teams so used to each other will get the other berth.

Instead of a 14th game against the Rapids since 2017, a introductory match for Minnesota against Omaha or Northern Colorado would have been much more intriguing. Omaha’s win at Soldier Field on Tuesday left Chicago Fire coach Ezra Hendrickson ticked off over how his team played, and the Hailstorm’s 1-0 victory had a bit of serendipity with it coming despite managing only one shot on target.

For a national tournament which leans into the slogan “the magic of the cup,” the randomness of how the envelopes were opened during a streamed show Thursday landed toward the “mundane of the cup.”

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With a 2-0 third-round victory over Forward Madison on Wednesday, the Loons improved to 6-3 all time in Open Cup play, including 3-0 vs. lower-level clubs, since becoming an MLS side in 2017.

The Loons’ next Open Cup game will further clog its schedule in May, giving them seven matches in the first 28 days of the month. The Open Cup match lands on the schedule between FC Cincinnati at home on May 7 and a road game at Seattle on May 15. MNUFC applied for the Open Cup game to be held in St. Paul on May 11, with the Loons planning to fly to Washington state on May 13.

MLS clubs went 13-4 in the third round of the Open Cup, with Columbus Crew and Austin FC also suffering upsets this week. After the Crew lost to Detroit City, Columbus coach Caleb Porter did not speak to media members.

Eight MLS clubs, the top four finishers in each conference in 2021, now enter the national tournament in the fourth round: New England, Philadelphia, Nashville and New York City from the East; Colorado, Seattle, Kansas City and Portland have joined from the West. That means most of the favorites are now warming up.

So, while the Loons and Rapids have had contentious, red-card-filled games since Minnesota joined the league, the chance of facing a Cinderella story is certainly a more compelling plot, especially this early in the tournament.

MLS teams are overwhelming favorites to win the Open Cup trophy. They most likely will comprise the bulk of the quarterfinalist and so on, so why not let the organizers at U.S. Soccer put their finger on the scales and create early-round matchups that pit the Davids against the Goliaths?

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