While MLS put on a glitzy show Wednesday in Chicago — before the match, if not during it — a soccer event of consequence was playing out in front of a smaller audience in South Florida.
There, two second-tier teams enjoying fruitful runs in the U.S. Open Cup were vying for a place in the semifinals, an infrequent destination for a non-MLS side. FC Cincinnati, a second-year USL side with first-division expansion ambitions, prevailed against the NASL’s FC Miami, 2-0, to book a date with MLS’s New York Red Bulls on Aug. 15.
Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, site of record-setting crowds this year, is sure to be hopping. The club drew 32,287 in the round of 16 and is averaging 20,063 in league play.
Since MLS launched in 1996, only three lower-flight teams have advanced to the championship game: The Rochester Rhinos lost to D.C. United in the ’96 final and then three years later defeated the Colorado Rapids, and the Charleston Battery fell to D.C. in 2008. Six years ago, the Richmond Kickers reached the semifinals.
“This one was very, very special. It was magical,” FC Cincinnati Coach Alan Koch told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “To take this club in the second year of our existence to a cup semifinal is amazing. I’m incredibly proud of everybody in our entire club. Even if you’re Los Angeles Galaxy and you’re a storied club in America, a semifinal is an accomplishment. We’re the new kids on the block, and we just did it.”
Senegalese attacker Djiby Fall scored in the 68th minute before a crowd of 10,415 at Florida International University’s Riccardo Silva Stadium — a nice turnout for a team averaging 6,200 in the rickety NASL.
Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt extended his 2017 Open Cup scoreless streak to 510 minutes.
In the other semifinal, featuring MLS teams, Sporting Kansas City will host the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park.
The final is Sept. 20 in Kansas City, if SKC advances. Based on draw results, San Jose is the only semifinalist that can’t host the final. Cincinnati would get the final if it wins and San Jose defeats Kansas City. New York would host San Jose, as well.
>> Meantime in Chicago, a sellout crowd of 61,428 watched Real Madrid, without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, defeat the MLS all-stars on penalty kicks, 4-2, after a 1-1 draw through 90 minutes. Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer scored the equalizer in the 87th minute. Atlanta United left back Greg Garza suffered a separated shoulder early in the match and will undergo an MRI exam today in Atlanta to determine the extent of damage and how much time he’ll miss.
MLS’s regular season resumes this weekend with all 22 teams in action, including league-leading Toronto FC visiting bottom-dwelling D.C. United.
>> Portland’s home match against Los Angeles on Sunday will kick off at 11 a.m. local time, two hours earlier than scheduled, because of the intense heat wave cooking western Oregon. It will be 103 degrees in the Rose City today and 95 on Sunday. ESPN will carry the match live.
>> Ethan Horvath, a 22-year-old American goalkeeper, made his second consecutive start for Belgian side Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League qualifying stage. The outcome, though, wasn’t any better than the first. He conceded two goals in a 2-0 defeat at Istanbul Basaksehir, resulting in a 5-3 aggregate defeat. Emmanuel Adebayor had a goal and an assist.
>> In Copa MX, U.S. midfielder Jose Torres logged 87 minutes in Tigres’ 1-1 home draw with Cruz Azul.
>> The U.S. women’s national team wraps up the Tournament of Nations tonight at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., with a 2015 World Cup rematch against Japan. Coming off a 4-3 comeback victory over Brazil, the Americans (1-1-0) can win the competition if they defeat Japan, Australia (2-0-0) loses to Brazil and the United States overcomes a three-goal difference. (The Matildas are plus-three, the Americans even.)
ESPN2, WatchESPN and ESPN3.com will carry the U.S. match, starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time. The other game is available at 7:15 on ESPN3.com.
>> The Women’s European Championship semifinals are Thursday in the Netherlands: Denmark vs. Austria in Breda at noon ET and Netherlands vs. England in Enschede at 2:45. The final is Sunday in Enschede. Two NWSL players, both Danish, remain in the tournament: Portland Thorns forward Nadia Nadim and Washington Spirit midfielder Line Sigvardsen Jensen. ESPN3.com has shown every match in the tournament, and ESPN2 will carry the final.
>> The National Soccer Coaches Association of America, an umbrella group for coaches on all levels, has rebranded. It is now United Soccer Coaches. The organization announced the site of the next five conventions: Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Anaheim and Kansas City.