The losses have been too numerous to count. The victorious opponents? Too embarrassing to mention. The history of the Red Bulls in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has been a frightful one, with nearly as many losses to minor-league clubs than wins over Major League Soccer teams.
Part of the reason for the failures of the past has been the franchise’s attitude toward the tournament. It just didn’t care.
But that has changed. Sporting director Ali Curtis and coach Jesse Marsch made it a point in the offseason to mention that the Red Bulls will take every competition seriously in the quest for a trophy. That quest begins tonight at Red Bull Arena when the Red Bulls begin Open Cup play with a fourth-round match against the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League.
“The U.S. Open Cup is a tournament that has a lot of history, and I don’t think our Red Bulls history is too good in it, so it’s very important for us to win,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said. “If you lose, you’re done, so maybe it’s good for us to get out of league competition for a little bit and try and focus on getting a win in a different competition and getting on the right track again.”
Three losses in a row has dulled a strong start, so a win tonight could give the team a boost in confidence and a springboard into a stretch of three MLS games in an eight-day stretch.
“We’re trying to create a culture of winning here,” McCarty said. “Obviously the past couple of weeks haven’t been what we wanted so, especially when we’re playing a team that’s in a lower division than us, we have to have respect for them. We know that they’re not doing too well in their league either, but they’re a dangerous team.”
The Silverbacks, who play one level below MLS, are the perfect team to feast on. Their 10-game spring season ended on Saturday with a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, putting the Silverbacks (1-4-5) dead last in the 11-team league. On top of that, they only scored seven goals all season while allowing 13.
Still, they have a solid Open Cup history and they reached the quarterfinals last year after upsetting Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. Also, their coach, Gary Smith, coached the Rapids from 2008-11, so he is familiar with MLS clubs.
“The danger in these first-round games is taking these teams lightly,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “We know Atlanta is a good team. They have quality players. They’re very athletic. They’ll look to catch us on the counter, which we’ve shown we’re susceptible to. We’ve got to make sure that we handle this game in the right way and when we step on the field make sure we’re ready to compete and get a result.
“I’m not concerned about the history of the Open Cup with this club. I understand that the fans want us to compete and I’ve promised from the beginning that we would compete every time we step on the field because that’s our identity. We will do that again. The fans have responded well to how our team competes every day, so we’re going to do that again. We’re not taking this game lightly. At the beginning of the year we said that the Open Cup was a priority, so we’re going to make sure that when we step on the field (Tuesday) night we’re ready.”
Considering the Red Bulls haven’t played since June 5, expect Marsch to play a number of his starters at least half the game. Unfortunately, that won’t apply to the defense, where the rotation will continue. Chris Duvall (red card from the Open Cup last season) is out, Karl Ouimette remains with Canada for World Cup qualifying play, Matt Miazga won’t return until the weekend following the U.S. exit in the Under-20 World Cup, and Kemar Lawrence is on international duty with Jamaica.
That leaves some combination of Connor Lade, Damien Perrinelle, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Ronald Zubar and Anthony Wallace to form a back line that will have not played together this year. Zubar hasn’t played since injuring a hamstring in the first game of the season, but Marsch said Zubar will start, though he isn’t fit enough for 90 minutes.
“Before the season we talked about what sort of things we wanted to accomplish, and the U.S. Open Cup was one of the major objectives,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “We look at this game as two-fold. We’ve been in a bit of a slump, so it gives us an opportunity to right some wrongs, but more than anything it’s just another possibility to get this club some silverware. It’s one of the fastest ways to the (CONCACAF Champions League), it’s one of the major trophies, and there’s a nice, substantial bonus involved, too. That’s not the reason to win it, but more than anything we like to view this as just the next game of our season.”
Marsch won the Open Cup four times as a player, but he never took winning it for granted.
“You’d have to take it a little bit year by year, but in all of those years that we won it we survived a lot of crazy moments and survived some tight moments in games,” he said. “And you’ve got to get some breaks, but make sure at every level that your mentality is right, and when you step on the field it’s a championship game every game. … You can’t slip up here. One game and you’re out.
“The Open Cup is special is because it’s an elimination tournament. I’ve played in some crazy games in some crazy venues against some teams and some fans. We had a brawl in Rochester one year in 1999 and Rochester beat us in the first round (on the way to winning the Open Cup). We lost on penalties in D.C. against Dallas and that was painful. As a player, the losses stick with me more than the wins. It’s always easy to remember the championships and lifting trophies. We won an overtime game in 98 against Miami at home, and that was a week after we won MLS Cup, and then I got married a week later after that, so that was a pretty good month of my life.”
Added McCarty: “This is a competition that, for us, we haven’t taken too seriously for whatever reason the past couple of years, and that’s got to change. We’re expecting to win the game. Jesse has obviously won this tournament plenty of times so he knows how important it is. It’s the fastest way to a trophy in terms of the amount of games you have to play. We’re taking it seriously, so I imagine you’ll see a pretty strong team out there.”