When: May 24th, 8:00 PM ET | How to Watch: Stream Free on Bleacher Report
The 2023 U.S. Open Cup is entering the round of 16 where Charlotte FC will travel to USL side Birmingham Legion. The match will be held at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama on May 24th at 8:00 pm.
What to expect from The Crown ahead of the round of 16 match against Birmingham:
Turn the Page
On Saturday night, Charlotte FC fell in a heartbreaking home loss due to a controversial, last-minute penalty awarded to Nashville SC. After a well-played match that felt like a fair draw, it was a gut punch to CLTFC players and fans alike.
Now, the team has a quick turnaround to Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 match at Birmingham Legion FC, the beginning of a grueling stretch of four road games in two weeks. The silver lining of this midweek fixture congestion, though, is that the opportunity to move on from a loss comes quickly.
Earlier this season, after CLTFC lost on the road at Real Salt Lake, Head Coach Christian Lattanzio said, “We need to start again from Toronto [a 2-2 draw the match before], not start from scratch.” The Crown were unbeaten in three before that match and went unbeaten in three again after that Lattanzio quote.
Lattanzio will be looking for his team to respond to this loss in the same fashion they did after RSL. The team had won four straight before the loss to Nashville, and Birmingham represent the perfect opportunity to start a bounce-back run.
Use Bench Effectively
The early stages of the U.S. Open Cup often bring an opportunity for MLS sides to rotate their starting lineup and give players further down the depth chart a chance to prove themselves. Lattanzio was able to do this in the first two rounds, with players like Chris Hegardt proving they can contribute at a high level in both wins.
The further an Open Cup run goes, however, the better the argument becomes for a full strength starting eleven. This match in particular presents a tricky situation for the CLTFC coaching staff, with a huge home quarterfinal match on the line but three away games in the league coming up within the next 10 days.
The solution will likely be to use the bench effectively. In the first two games of this Open Cup run, Lattanzio elected to hold a few heavy-hitting attackers in reserve to be deployed in the final stages when defenses are worn down. This worked to great effect, as Kamil Jozwiak netted the winner off the bench against Orlando and Karol Swiderski sealed the 4-1 victory over Tormenta from the bench.
Regardless of the starting lineup Lattanzio selects on Wednesday night, the players not selected to start the match could end up having the biggest impact.
Prepare for Veterans
Birmingham Legion FC have bolstered their roster over the past few years with veteran players that have MLS experience. While their results in the USL Championship this year have been up and down, leaving them 6th in the table and the losers of their last four league games, they have built their team to have the experience needed for an Open Cup underdog run.
Juan Agudelo is the name most MLS fans will recognize. The forward made 250 MLS appearances with 50 goals and 24 assists across stints with five different clubs, earning him 28 caps with the senior U.S. Men’s National Team. At just 30 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank to be an upset catalyst.
Enzo Martinez, the Legion’s leading goal scorer with five, is a name many Charlotte FC fans will recognize. The Rock Hill local starred for the Charlotte Independence for many years after a successful college career at UNC Chapel Hill and stints at Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. The Legion also have several other MLS veterans, including Tyler Pasher (36 apps/6 goals with Houston Dynamo FC) and Alex Crognale (34 apps/21 starts with Columbus Crew SC).
While Birmingham is a second division side, they clearly still have quality players with the ability to be contributors for MLS teams. This means they will have a level of experience and comfort in Wednesday’s match that more inexperienced teams might not.
Once the first whistle blows, division classifications mean nothing, and the Legion have the proven attacking quality to punish any mistakes. CLTFC coaches and players will need to prepare for a hard-fought, gritty match in Alabama in order to book their place in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.
What’s At Stake?
America’s oldest and longest-running soccer tournament, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, was first held way back in 1913 when it was known as the National Challenge Cup. Unlike any other competition in the American soccer pyramid, this is the only tournament where at least 80 professional, semi-pro, and amateur teams alike all compete for the same trophy.
This is an opportunity for fans to watch their teams play against opponents they normally wouldn’t. It’s also a chance for clubs to win a trophy outside of their respective leagues. Not only is a trophy on the line, but the winner of the U.S. Open Cup also is granted a spot in the following year’s CONCACAF Champions League. The CCL is the premier continental tournament where teams from North and Central America compete against each other for the title of the best team in the region.
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