The beauty of the US Open Cup lies in the upsets. The unpredictability is entrancing as lower division sides stand toe-to-toe with the MLS elite. On Wednesday, the Charlotte Independence hope to become the tournament’s latest Cinderella story when they face the New England Revolution at Soldiers Field in Cambridge, MA.
The Independence advanced to the Fourth Round by defeating the Carolina RailHawks of the NASL via a late Ryan Finley goal. Most casual fans would view that as an upset, but Independence midfielder Paolo DelPiccolo doesn’t see it that way.
"I don’t really think that when we went into the Carolina RailHawks game that anyone [on the team] really felt we were the underdogs," DelPiccolo explained. "The leagues are real comparable in my opinion—USL and NASL—and with no promotion-relegation how can you say one is higher than the other?"
With the RailHawks now behind them, DelPiccolo knows that his team will unquestionably be the underdogs on Wednesday. The Revs were the MLS Cup runners-up last season and currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Regardless, Charlotte is approaching the midweek affair in a calm and confident manner.
Part of this mindset stems from the vast amount of MLS experience on the roster. Besides DelPiccolo—who played with the Montreal Impact and Revolution—the team also employs Bilal Duckett (Vancouver Whitecaps, Revolution), Alex Martinez (Sporting Kansas City), Finley (Columbus Crew, Chivas USA), and more. These players bring an air of confidence to the locker room as they look to return to the American first division.
"I think that’s probably every single player in the league, that’s what they’re trying to do every day, to catch an eye and try to get back up to MLS," DelPiccolo explained. "The ownership of the USL clubs, they’re not blind to it. They know that’s what these players want to do."
Beyond benefiting the individual, this week’s game is a chance to boost the reputation of the Independence. An expansion team founded in September 2014, there’s very little history associated with the Independence. A deep run in the Open Cup would do a lot in terms of drawing attention.
"I think it would be huge," DelPiccolo remarked. "Anytime you have a lower division team that comes and really beats a giant, like the Revs, that’s a big deal, especially for our club. So I think the whole organization is real excited for this game."
Fully aware that they are the underdogs, Charlotte isn’t backing down. In a single-game knockout format anyone can win with good strategy, complete focus, and unwavering belief.
"As far as the tournament goes, it’s an exciting game because it’s a one-and-done," DelPiccolo remarked. "If you lose you’re out, just like it was in Carolina. So, it’s going to be a lot energy and pretty intense."