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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The RailHawks & Panama, the USL & the MLS: Night of the long knives?

Posted by on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge Caleb Norkus and Sallieu Bundu celebrate Brian Plotkin's goal. (photo by Rich Bostwick)
  • Caleb Norkus and Sallieu Bundu celebrate Brian Plotkin's goal. (photo by Rich Bostwick)

WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—The RailHawks fielded a reserve-heavy lineup and beat a Panamanian national squad composed of same, 1-0, on a Brian Plotkin strike in the 59th.

I wasn't there for the goal. I was at the office late, and only caught the last 20 minutes. Here's Rachel Ullrich's account in the N&O.

I wasn't the only one who wasn't there—about 2,000 other WakeMed regulars were missing, too. In truth, the party was elsewhere. Round 3 of the US Open Cup was being held, and MLS teams were going down in flames to teams from the USL:

  • USL-2 Wilmington, which defeated Carolina two weeks ago, beat the Chicago Fire 1-0
  • The Harrisburg City Islanders, also of USL-2, defeated New England Revolution 2-1
  • The USL-1 Rochester Rhinos defeated the Columbus Crew 1-1 (5-3)
  • The USL-1 Charleston Battery beat Chivas USA 3-1

Only D.C. United and Kansas City avoided defeat last night, and KC did so just barely, beating the Minnesota Thunder 3-3 (4-2). And tonight, the USL-1 has two more opportunities to knock out MLS sides. Both are regional matchups: USL-1 Portland Timbers versus the brand-new MLS side Seattle Sounders, and the expansion USL-1 Austin Aztex versus the MLS Houston Dynamo. The Portland-Seattle one will be a battle royale, and we plan to watch it tonight (DirecTV subscribers may even want to try hunting around on your back channels for the feed from local television in Portland). [UPDATE: The indefatigable Jarrett Campbell has tweeted: The game will be on channel 687, Fox Sports NW, at 10 p.m. ET]

What does this mean for soccer in the US? Obviously, it's a great day for the USL, but how significant is it? After all, the MLS teams clearly aren't taking the US Open Cup terribly seriously, for they all sent reserves into battle last night.

What the results do show, however, is that there is more top-notch soccer talent in this country than can be employed by the MLS. Every USL team has players who've been on an MLS roster at some point. The RailHawks, in fact, can field an entire team of players who have done time in the MLS:

  1. Caleb Patterson (Red Bull New York)
  2. Devon McKenney (Columbus Crew)
  3. Mark Schulte (Crew)
  4. John Gilkerson (Red Bull)
  5. Jack Stewart (Chicago Fire)
  6. Brian Plotkin (Fire)
  7. Daniel Paladini (Chivas USA, LA Galaxy)
  8. Amir Lowery (Colorado Rapids)
  9. Luke Kreamalmeyer (Real Salt Lake)
  10. John Cunliffe (Chivas, San Jose)
  11. Gavin Glinton (LA Galaxy, San Jose)

 

So, when MLS teams send their reserve sides against USL lineups such as the one noted above, we're basically looking at a game between two groups of MLS reserves—only the USL side is going to be more cohesive and motivated, and often will be playing in its home stadium.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with the RailHawks' house reporter Tim Candon about why the MLS doesn't take the Cup seriously. It's very simple, he said: First prize is $100,000, hardly enough to trouble an MLS franchise.

If the suits don't take the Cup seriously, the MLS fans do. If you want a good dose of schadenfreude, take a gander at the team chat boards at bigsoccer.com: You'll see some serious gnashing of teeth (Chicago fans are calling for coach Denis Hamlett to be (or not to be) fired for, among other things, losing to a USL-2 team).

About the headline on this post: Last night was the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Nacht der langen Messer, or Night of the Long Knives, which lasted from June 30-July 2, 1934 (remember, two more MLS teams may meet their fates tonight). Ordinarily, I'd stay away from a light-hearted evocation of Nazism, but that episode was an internecine affair in which one faction eliminated another. Like last night in US soccer.

I've got a few more notes from last night that I'll post later on.

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