The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Friday the match-ups for the fourth round of the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament. The San Jose Earthquakes learned that they will host either Sacramento Republic FC or Fresno Fuego FC at Kezar Stadium in a game scheduled for the week of June 11-18. The date and kickoff time will likely be announced early next week.
In an effort to better regionalize the annual tournament, U.S. Soccer determined a series of geographically based pairings that called for the Quakes to face an opponent from Northern California. With the Republic and Fuego advancing to the third round of the tournament, where they fill face each other on May 28 in Sacramento, it was an easy decision to assign the winner to face San Jose. In a coin flip ceremony performed at USSF headquarters in Chicago, the Quakes were awarded hosting rights to the game.
If the Republic can get past Fresno, the not yet scheduled fourth round game would be between the Earthquakes and their USL PRO affiliate, a pairing that may seem a conflict of interest. However, U.S. Soccer does not see it that way, and only prevents pairings of teams that are operated by the same ownership group -- the LA Galaxy can not be matched up against its USL PRO side LA Galaxy II, for example. In last year's tournament, 2012 defending champions Sporting Kansas City were eliminated by its affiliate Orlando City SC in the fourth round -- its on-loan players to Orlando held out of the match.
So, no worries that on loan red-hot Republic striker Adam Jahn will haunt his parent team. Or bulldog striker Mike Fucito either. Jahn, who scored the first home goal in Sacramento Republic FC history, Fucito, and any other on-loan Earthquakes in Sacramento would not be allowed to face San Jose.
The Earthquakes had a disappointing 2013 Open Cup effort, losing at the first opportunity in the third round to the Charleston Battery, which came during a rough spring for San Jose that culminated in the mutual parting of ways with head coach Frank Yallop. Two years ago, the Quakes lost a hard-fought 1-0 quarterfinal match against the Seattle Sounders at Kezar Stadium. That match was most memorable for the post-game incident in which Sounders striker Eddie Johnson struck the Quakes' Jed Zayner with a sucker punch.
With the 16 U.S.-based MLS teams entering the tournament at a time that their rosters are already impacted by World Cup absences, the lower league competition may in some match-ups have an advantage. Certainly the Earthquakes, who will be without Victor Bernardez and possibly Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski, will have to rely on their roster depth to carry them forward in the Open Cup. Though still too early to know for certain, the poor timing of the tournament's fourth round could make an already difficult knock-out competition even harder.
Click here for the entire U.S. Open Cup fourth round pairings.