Decision Day is fast approaching for Major League Soccer. New York City FC’s chances of making the MLS Cup Playoffs hang by the slimmest of threads, while the New York Red Bulls need to win at Nashville if they want to lose in the playoffs for a 14th straight year. It’s chaos.
You can find just as much drama on the amateur side of US soccer. The Third Qualifying Round for the 2024 US Open Cup is taking place this weekend. A victory means advancing to the final round in November, which means teams are two wins away from playing in America’s national knockout competition.
There’s only one game taking place within the five boroughs this round. However, two more games “nearby” feature somewhat local sides, one from the Garden State, and one from far Upstate.
New York Pancyprian-Freedoms (NY) vs NY Renegades FC (NY)
Sun, October 22, 8 pm ET
Belson Stadium at St John’s University, Queens
Stream: Game In Frame
The New York Pancyprian-Freedoms will host the only qualifier to take place in New York City when they play at St John’s University on Sunday. The three-time US Open Cup champions are only a few results away from returning to the tournament for the first time since 2016. So far this season the powerhouse has done well in the Eastern Premier Soccer League (EPSL). The club are undefeated in five games, and lead the Metropolitan Conference with a roster that could very well compete in most national competitions.
The Freedoms opened qualifying with a First Qualifying Round win over New York Braveheart SC, 1-0, with an early goal from Simon Tchoukriel. A second round match against rivals Lansdowne Yonkers FC needed extra time for the 2-1 win. Former Columbus Crew midfielder Luis Argudo and former New York Red Bulls full-back Jordan Bailon both scored at Belson Stadium for the Freedoms.
They will face the NY Renegades FC of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), from Hicksville, Long Island. The young side has used the UPSL as a springboard for young players. They have the look of an academy team, and the talent to back it up. This season the team is atop the Northeast-American Conference table with seven wins and a draw.
The Renegades cruised through the first round by downing Cosmopolitan Soccer League side Manhattan Kickers FC, 5-0. Rodrigo Descalzo Rocca and Rances Reneau Bardales were the main stars of their team, scoring two goals and assisting on two more. Edgar Velasquez rounded out the destruction.
Descalzo kept up his scoring pace in the second round against Zum Schneider FC 03, scoring the opening goal. He later assisted Alexis Santa on the second goal before Jonathan Silviera put the game away with a third in the second half.
Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals (PA) vs New Jersey Alliance FC (NJ)
Sun, October 22, 2 pm ET
Field 6 at the Ukrainian American Sports Center, North Wales, PA
Only one Garden State amateur side remains in contention for the Open Cup. New Jersey Alliance FC, representing Clifton, NJ, has hopes of making its first-ever US Open Cup appearance. After a bye in the First Round, Alliance won its opening game against SC Vistula Garfield on October 1. Two goals from Ali Lakhrif buried the out-matched Vistula, who were one of the dark horses in qualifying last year.
Founded in 2012, Alliance FC have grown from playing in the state-run Garden State Soccer League to now competing in the national UPSL. Their short but impressive record includes two championships in the now-defunct NISA Nation Northeast Region (2021, 2022). This season in UPSL the team is sitting in the top half of the Northeast-American Conference with a record of 5 wins, 1 draw, and 2 losses.
They don’t have an easy task in front of them. Hosts Philadelphia Ukrainians Nationals are, without a doubt, one of the most historic teams in American soccer. Founded in 1950 by displaced Ukrainians as a way to preserve their culture after World War II, the club was a powerhouse professional unit in the mid-20th century. They won six American Soccer League titles, and four National Challenge Cups (now the US Open Cup) in 1960, 1961, 1963, and 1966.
As time wore on, the Nationals’ star diminished but never fully went away. Today the club still runs a powerful youth organization just outside Philadelphia.
The senior men’s team competes in the United Soccer League of Pennsylvania (no relation to the professional USL). Last year, the Ukrainians returned to a national league when they joined the National Premier Soccer League.
Sahara Gunners FC (NY) vs Valhalla FC (OH)
Sun, October 22, 3 pm ET
Crosby Soccer Field, Buffalo, NY
Outside of the New York City metropolitan area, only one Empire State team remains in qualifying. Sahara Gunners FC of the UPSL are representing Buffalo, NY in their quest to bring the tournament back to their city.
The Gunners won their first match against fellow Western NY side IASC Boom, 2-1. The two UPSL teams met in last year’s qualifiers where the Italian American Sport Club prevailed, 3-1. Sahara has been a growing presence in Buffalo and attracted some high-profile fans. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is a sponsor of the team, and many other players and members of Bills Mafia are involved.
Regular Hudson River Blue “Tri-State Soccer Scene” readers might recognize Valhalla from earlier this year, when the team was briefly introduced in our National Amateur Cup primer article. It explained how their name and vibe endeared them to members of the Viking Army SC, one of the New York Red Bull’s main supporters groups.
Neither side has ever made it past the qualifying stages in the US Open Cup.