Though the draw for the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup originally sent FC Cincinnati north to Minnesota, a paperwork mix up means the Orange & Blue will actually be hosting the match instead.
That means the Open Cup will be returning to Nippert Stadium on Wednesday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m., for the first time since FC Cincinnati's incredible run in last year's tournament came to an end in the semifinals. The return will also mark the club's first official match against Major League Soccer opposition in 2018, with Minnesota United FC visiting Cincinnati for the first time.
Though the last two rounds of FC Cincinnati's 2018 Open Cup run have been far from easy, the stakes are always higher in the fourth round when MLS sides enter the fray. But the Orange & Blue still did have to win in the two previous matches to get here.
In the second round, it took extra time for FC Cincinnati to dispatch of the semi-professional outfit, Detroit City FC. The NPSL club pushed Cincinnati to their limits and took an early lead before succumbing to an Emery Welshman hat trick.
The reward for advancing was a third-round trip to face regional USL rivals, Pittsburgh Riverounds SC. At the time, the Hounds remained the only unbeaten side in USL and had yet to concede a goal at home in 2018. Unfazed, FCC rolled on to a dominant 3-1 victory to set up this Wednesday's match-up with MLS opposition in the fourth round.
Coming into the match, FCC have won four of their last five matches in all competitions including a come-from-behind win over New York Red Bulls II on Saturday. The victory lifted them back to the top of the USL Eastern Conference standings.
As for Minnesota, they enter Wednesday's match -- their first in the Open Cup this year -- in a far more chaotic run of form. Their last outing saw them drop a 4-1 result to Sporting KC in regular-season MLS action, and they've registered just one win in their last five. Those results have seen them dip to ninth in the MLS Western Conference.
Predicting how the Loons of Minnesota will approach Wednesday's match is no easy task. Some MLS clubs don't place a lot of importance on the Open Cup until the later rounds of the tournament. However, United haven't had much of an opportunity to demonstrate whether that holds true for them or not since making the jump to MLS from the NASL in 2017. The club have played just one Open Cup match as an MLS club, in which they fell 4-0 to Sporting KC in the 2017 tournament.
And though their side languish in the lower reaches of the league table, they aren't yet out of contention for one of the eight playoff spots up for grabs in the MLS Western Conference. As such, it wouldn't be out of the question to see Loons head coach Adrian Heath prioritize league play and use this match to rotate in some non-regulars on his roster.
Conversely, Heath could also see a victory over the club's future MLS opponents as a way of kick-starting a better run of form in the league.
As for FCC's Alan Koch, a busy upcoming calendar could also tempt the manager to rotate his own squad. But with MLS opposition once again visiting the Queen City, resting key players could be costly.
One face that didn't participate in Saturday's match in New Jersey who is likely to take part in Wednesday's proceedings is club captain Dekel Keinan. The Israel international was suspended for the weekend’s match because of yellow-card accumulation but should be available for selection in the Open Cup.