With the move towards being (mostly) self-reliant, another perk in that vein is that Loudoun United get to test their mettle in the Best Soccer Tournament of them all, the U.S. Open Cup. Tonight, they kick off their inaugural run at Segra Field, hosting a somewhat familiar team from a lower league, and knowing that a win sees them likely facing an MLS side in the next round (the draw for that is tomorrow).
NCFC has bounced around at various points in the soccer pyramid; starting in the USL-1, then moving to the NASL before returning to the USL Championship in 2017. They’ve played Loudoun twice, splitting two meetings, before they moved down to League One after the 2020 season, and have finished in last in 2021 and 2022, and have split their first two games in 2023. There are some familiar names locally; Nelson Flores Blanco appeared in 25 games over Loudoun’s first two seasons, and the former D.C. United Academy alumnus has received some national team call-ups by El Salvador as well. Midfielder Pecka and forward Oalex Anderson have previous MLS experience with Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders, respectively. Garrett McLaughlin led the team in goals last year (14), and should provide a test for Yanis Leerman and Bryce Washington.
What to know before kickoff
Despite learning recently that they’ll be without the services of defender and co-captain Cole Turner due to a meniscus injury suffered in a road loss at Tulsa, the team is focused on not only the ‘next man up’ mentality and looking forward to tonight’s challenge and the Open Cup in general, having faced NCFC already in preseason in February, they’re aware of their qualities.
“It’s always one game at a time you know, there’s always some crazy heroics in this tournament,” Koa Santos said after Tuesday’s practice. “I remember playing Greenville Triumph last year with Charlotte FC and they packed the place, they were up for it. It’s a crazy, fun tournament, and I think with the group we have, we can go as far as we want, but one game at a time, start small.”
“(They’re) a tough opponent, and even though they’re a league below us, that doesn’t really mean anything,” Kalil El-Medkhar said. “As you can see, anything can happen in this tournament with Sacramento (Republic, making the finals) last year. We’re just focused on the first one, but we’re really excited for it.”
“It’s really exciting and every team, regardless of what level of the footballing pyramid they’re in, you’re endeavoring to go far and make a run and do well for your fans,” Zach Ryan said. “I’d say we certainly fall into the camp of (being) ambitious, we think we can go toe to toe with any team we play against.”
“It’s a prestigious event, to be part of it is extremely special,” Ryan Martin said. “Our guys are extremely motivated, whatever team, whatever game, whatever venue it is to perform and to execute and to go after it. We’re happy it’s home and happy to be a part of the Open Cup experience. A lot of guys have played college soccer and done quite well in one-off games, which is your NCAA tournament. So for us there’s no points at stake (tonight), it’s win or go home and that’s the mentality we’re going in with.”
Your random stat
235 – The number of minutes Loudoun United has currently gone without scoring so far.
How to watch
Match date/kickoff time: Wednesday, April 5, 7:00pm ET
Venue: Segra Field, Leesburg, VA (tickets are available here for the compelled, I can tell you they’re eager to give them away!)
Online Streaming: None
Loudoun Unavailables: Alex Nagy (ACL) and Kwame Awuah (achilles) are both out for the season to injury, Cole Turner (meniscus) is out until approximately August.