Sacramento Gold FC has earned its first ever berth in the Second Round of a U.S. Open Cup. With another win, the Gold will also clinch an unprecedented spot in the Third Round. To do so, they'll have to venture into hostile territory and top a tough team looking to snag the spot, and a shot at even greater glory, for its own. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's game.
Pushing Past the PDL
To reach the Second Round, both the Sacramento Gold and La Máquina had to get past strong teams from the Premier Development League (PDL). In the First Round, Sacramento hosted the Burlingame Dragons, falling behind 1-0 on a late first half goal. However, Jose Martinez and Manolo Piña scored in a two-minute span to give the Gold a 2-1 lead. The Gold defense was able to withstand a strong push by the Dragons and Chimdum Mez scored to seal the 3-1 victory, the first U.S. Open Cup win in club history.
La Máquina, meanwhile, had to travel all the way to Portland for its First Round matchup with the Timbers' U-23 squad. Despite having to travel nearly 1,000 miles and fielding a smaller roster, La Máquina scored within the opening minutes thanks to Alejandro Velazquez. The score remained the same throughout the game, with the visitors not only holding onto their lead, but controlling the possession and tone of the game. Edwin Borboa added a late goal to seal the 2-0 win, earning La Máquina's first Open Cup victory in team history. In addition, the most impressive part of their performance may have come from the stands.
Home of "The Machine"
Providence Park is the home of Major League Soccer (MLS)'s Portland Timbers, the reigning league champs. It's also arguably the biggest and most feared home field advantage in all of American soccer. Anyone who's been to the building, heard their raucous fans, and seen their incredible tifos can attest to this. Even cheering on a minor league squad, the crowd was expected to dominate the game against a small group of fans following their little-known Southern California team.
Well, the crowd did dominate the game. Except, it was the away fans completely out-cheering, out-singing, and out-yelling the home crowd. As good as La Máquina's on-field performance was, their traveling fans pushed them to an even higher level. For one night, the most feared MLS venue was in their hands. This will be different in the Second Round. Against Sacramento, La Máquina's fans will not have to travel 1,000 miles. The Machine will be playing at home, meaning even more of those same fans will pack the house. The Gold will unquestionably be heading into an intimidating atmosphere Wednesday.
Whether it be in Oregon or in its home in Southern California, when The Machine is running smoothly, it's nearly unstoppable. La Máquina's players have spent several years playing together, and the club (players, coaches, supporters) has created a close-knit family atmosphere. Tomorrow night, La Máquina will be playing at home, meaning all conditions will be comfortable. The only non-familiar factor in the game, the only part which can cause discomfort and make The Machine stoppable, will be the other team lining up across from them.
From the get go, Sacramento must to everything it can to disrupt La Máquina's rhythm and flow. Constant pressure on all sides of the ball, forcing the opposition to give 100% in every 50-50 ball, and playing with a physical style can do exactly that. It will take a total team effort to do so. Lately, Sacramento hasn't gotten off to good starts in games, with only six goals in the first half of the last six games. However, the Gold has proven capable of getting on a roll of its own as the game goes on. Over this same time period, Sacramento has scored 16 second half goals. Start the scoring early, and the Gold can slow down The Machine while getting their own rolling.
Make More History
As mentioned above, going into the 2016 U.S. Open Cup, Sacramento Gold FC and La Máquina had combined for exactly zero Open Cup wins in their history. After seeing other clubs from their leagues make impressive runs of their own, Sacramento and La Máquina were chomping at the bit to get one of their own underway. Having taken care of that in the First Round, both clubs will be looking to double their win total and reached an unprecedented destination: the Third Round.
Waiting for the winner will be one of two Southern California teams: one of La Máquina's United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) rivals, the Los Angeles Wolves, and a professional squad from the United Soccer League (USL), the Orange County Blues. Neither has made a long Open Cup run either, meaning whoever wins will get a much-desired shot at the Fourth Round, where the MLS teams will be waiting. Will Sacramento reach the Third Round for the first time ever? Will La Máquina prove to be another little-known Southern California team capable of making a lengthy run? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at Westminster High School.