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Schwartz: Red Bulls, Cosmos Eye US Open Cup Title, Reach Round Of 16

By Peter Schwartz
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It's shaping up to be quite a summer of soccer in our area.

The Red Bulls and NYCFC are battling for position in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer while the defending NASL champion Cosmos have their sights set on a third Soccer Bowl title in four years.

But aside from league play, the Red Bulls and  Cosmos are continuing their quest for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer competition in the United States. Both teams are through to the round of 16 and will look to punch their tickets to the quarterfinals with wins in their respective matches Wednesday.

The Red Bulls entered the tournament in the fourth round and won on the road, beating the Rochester Rhinos of the United Soccer League 1-0 on June 15. With the win, the Red Bulls advanced to meet their MLS Eastern Conference rivals the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Last year, these teams met in a quarterfinal match at Red Bull Arena that the Union won on penalty kicks.

"It was definitely a missed opportunity," said Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan. "I think we owe a little bit of revenge to Philadelphia this year, and I hope we can go down to their place and do what they did to us."

Sacha Kljestan
Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan (Photo by Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports, courtesy of New York Red Bulls)

This is a fascinating matchup for the Red Bulls as they are not only trying to advance in a tournament, but they will try to do so against a team they are also battling with for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls currently sit in third place, one point behind NYCFC and three points behind the Union.

But on Wednesday, the league standings will be put aside as the Red Bulls look to inch a little closer to some hardware.

"The biggest motivation is the chance to win the Open Cup because as a club we've never done that before," said Kljestan. "We're going to go down to Philly against a very good team, so it's definitely going to be a big challenge. But I think we're ready for it."

For the Red Bulls, this year's U.S. Open Cup draw is a lot different than last year's. A year ago, it looked like they were going to have home games all the way through to the final. This year, the draw will have them away from Red Bull Arena at least through the quarterfinals. To win the cup, the Red Bulls will have to be road warriors.

"We have to go on the road and grind out results against tough opponents," said Kljestan. "We just have to take it one game at a time."

Should the Red Bulls win against the Union, they will visit the winner of Wednesday night's match at St. John's between the Cosmos and New England Revolution. The Cosmos are in the round of 16 after a 2-0 win over the Jersey Express on June 1 at Belson Stadium and a 1-0 win over NYCFC on June 15 at Fordham University.

Over the last two years, the Cosmos have beaten the Red Bulls and NYCFC in USOC play, but this will be the first time they've faced the Revolution.

"It will be a difficult match," said Cosmos defender and captain Carlos Mendes. "They're a very athletic team, and they're very dangerous going forward. These are the games that you want to play in. We need to be 100 percent on top of our game."

Carlos Mendes
Carlos Mendes (Photo courtesy of New York Cosmos)

The Cosmos are no longer allowed to play USOC matches against MLS teams at their regular home field at Hofstra University because of fan behavior during games last year against NYCFC and two seasons ago against the Red Bulls.

So with no other suitable venue in the area available, the match will be played at 2,168-seat Belson Stadium at St. John's where the Cosmos are 3-0 in USOC matches over the last three years. It's a little more intimate than 11,929-seat Shuart Stadium, but it's been a very good home away from home.

"We know St. John's, and we know the field," said Mendes. "It's a smaller venue, but (the fans) are right on top of you, and the atmosphere is going to be fantastic. We're looking forward to it."

While the Cosmos have won two NASL titles in three years since their reboot in 2013, they have yet to get past the round of 16 in USOC competition. Hoisting the trophy is something that is very much on their to-do list.

"It's something that we've been aiming to do is to try and go deeper and further into the Open Cup," said Mendes. "It's difficult because you're playing a lot of good teams."

Should the Red Bulls and Cosmos win this Wednesday, it would set up a quarterfinal New York derby and a USOC match between the locals for the third straight year. There's still some work to do for both teams to make that happen, but it is fun to think about the possibility.

"We do know that it could be a potential matchup down the road and would be a very exciting game for the local fans and for local soccer, which would be pretty cool," said Kljestan.

"I think it would be fun for everybody," said Mendes. "They're a very good team, and last year they got the better of us so if we do have an opportunity to move on and have an opportunity to play them, we'd look forward to it."

In 2014, the Cosmos beat the Red Bulls 3-0 in a fourth-round match and then last year the Red Bulls prevailed 4-1 in the round of 16. Will there be a Red Bulls-Cosmos III?

We'll find out on Wednesday.

Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @opencup, @NewYorkRedBulls and @NYCosmos.

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