Thursday, May 16, 2013

USL Pro Spotlight Week 8: US Open Cup's "Battle of the Bay"

Article By: Pedro Gomes

This week’s USL Pro Spotlight will switch it’s field of view away from USL Pro league action and instead focus on the USL Pro clubs in US Open Cup competition. The First Round of the competition is in the books and a few of the USL Pro clubs have already seen action. For the most part, the clubs did fairly well with the exception of expansion franchise, Phoenix FC, who were handed defeated by their bitter USL PDL rivals, FC Tucson. It was a tough pill to swallow especially when you throw in the off-field wager the two clubs partook in.

Despite the one blemish, USL Pro clubs did fairly well recording victories by VSI Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and the Dayton Dutch Lions.

A pessimist would say that the victories were not all that impressive however, since only the Dayton Dutch Lions were able to pull out their victory in regulation. Both VSI Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh had to take the game to penalty kicks in order to earn their victory. This is not something incredibly uplifting if you are a supporter of either club, however, Pittsburgh would be playing 3 games in 9 days, which although isn’t an extremely compressed schedule it isn't an easy task for a team with a comparatively smaller roster than say an MLS team and with less than ideal travel arrangements at times.

VSI Tampa Bay, on the other hand, only has 3 competitive matches scheduled for all of May, including the US Open Cup game on the 14th. Although you could argue they may have suffered from too much rest and not enough game sharpness, they still should have put on a more convincing performance.

Looking ahead to next week, USL Pro teams will be front and center in the Open Cup. There will be 11 of 13 possible clubs competing in the Second Round of the Tournament. Only Phoenix FC and Antigua Barracudas will not feature. Antigua not part of the competition because they take part in the Caribbean Club Championship for their domestic cup and Phoenix FC lost to FC Tucson, as previously mentioned.

For the most part USL Pro clubs will be facing off against Amateur competition and "easier" opponents with the exception of VSI Tampa Bay who will host NASL 2012 Champions, Tampa Bay Rowdies. This will be the most interesting game to keep an eye on for a few reasons.

Mauricio Salles during Open Cup Match versus Orlando City U-23. Photo Credit: Mark Sims and Scott Miller

First, the two clubs will be battling for bragging rights within the same city. Since VSI Tampa Bay is another USL Pro expansion franchise this season, they do not have a long rich history to look back on to like the Rowdies do. They also do not have two championships like the Rowdies do. They earned their first in the old iteration of NASL in 1975 and they racked up another last season in NASL’s latest incarnation. You can bet that VSI Tampa Bay will look to make a splash in the Tampa Bay soccer scene with their US Open Cup matchup in order to garner some attention and respect at home.

In addition, the “Battle of the Bay” will not only offer bragging rights within Tampa Bay but between professional soccer leagues as well, as it will mark the first match between an NASL and USL Pro club in the 2013 US Open Cup. The irony of the situation is that neither team actually plays in Tampa Bay (Since it's a body of water :D ) or the city of Tampa proper, as the Rowdies call Al Lang Stadium home in St. Petersburg and VSI ply their trade in Plant City Stadium, just East of Tampa in Plant City. However, you could say that it still is a “Battle for the Bay” as one team hails from the Western Shore and another from its Eastern side.

And lastly, many pundits and fans have wondered where NASL and USL Pro currently stack up as far as level of competition in North America is concerned and this will be the first competitive situation that will put that discussion to the test.

So mark your calendars Florida soccer fans, May 21 at 7:30 PM Eastern Time will mark a very special night in the lower division soccer landscape.

For a full schedule of all the US Open Cup Second Round action head on over to

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