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Drawing Sacramento might underwhelm, but it's not the worst outcome for Rising

Owain Evans Avatar
April 21, 2022

There’s no organization in the world that can force people to watch with baited breath while it clumsily opens a series of paper envelopes quite like U.S. Soccer.

Fans sat glued to the screen on Thursday morning, watching the shuffling of envelopes by an Inter Miami fan of unknown selection, eagerly anticipating what could be a good fourth-round draw in the U.S. Open Cup.

Phoenix Rising has long chased a competitive matchup against an MLS team. It’s something that Joey Calistri mentioned as a motivation to go deep into the tournament.

“That’s exciting for us,” Calistri said after the team’s third-round victory. “We want that challenge. We want to prove ourselves against the best teams in the country.”

It had to be time for one, didn’t it? Rising was paired up with two MLS sides and a fellow USL Championship team in the aptly-named “Northern Pacific” region. Two out of three? Who doesn’t want those odds?

So the envelopes came. Rising’s name didn’t come out as a home team, but that was OK. All Phoenix had to do was avoid coming out next and facing Sacramento Republic.

The envelope opened. The paper inside came out. It was Rising’s card.

With that, out came a collective sigh from Rising fans.

Let’s be clear on this: Rising vs. Sacramento is an underwhelming cup tie. Part of the fun of competing in the Open Cup is that it allows you to see teams you never face in meaningful competition. We all watched with eagerness as minnows like Northern Colorado Hailstorm and Union Omaha took on the big guns of MLS and produced results against all odds. As much as it would pain Rising fans to say this, there was also an element of envy over the fact that Detroit City was afforded the chance to host a top-tier side, going on to knock off the Columbus Crew, 2-1.

The outcome of today’s draw just wasn’t as satisfying.

The San Jose Earthquakes — a team languishing in the basement of MLS’ league table — were in one of those envelopes. Could Rising have beaten them? We may never know.

The Seattle Sounders were another option. The Sounders enter the fourth round of the competition off the back of a busy spell. They’ll play midweek games in the two weeks prior, and those are for the continental crown in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League. Would they have put out the kids for the Open Cup, opening the door for a famous cupset? Once again, we may never know.

Instead, it’s another trip to Sacramento. Boring, boring Sacramento. Nothing says fun like a team that you’re already supposed to play at least twice this year, and faced off against four times last year, right?

Let’s find the positives, though. Sacramento is a team that Rising is capable of beating.

No, this isn’t an England-style hype piece, laden with the usual post-tournament draw drivel about how this time, they’ll win it all, only to later be ousted at a far earlier stage.

Sacramento is no slouch, and its track record in USL proves this. Republic suffered a poor season in 2021, but has notched a perfect slate at home since the start of this year. While Rising took full spoils in both matches in California’s capital city last season, those were the club’s first wins there since 2014.

Sacramento is one of the best teams in this league, but that is the key. They are one of the top teams in Rising’s own league.

If Rising turns up in Sacramento and plays at its best, there is a good chance it will move on to the fifth round. If Rising performs at its best and faces an MLS team doing likewise, could you really hope for a positive outcome?

That is the difference. For the first time since 2014, there’s an Arizona team in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. That team could go one step further, making it into the final 16: a stage no side from the Grand Canyon State has ever reached. They could do all of that without having to face a top-flight team on the way.

When you look at it that way, is it really such a bad draw after all?

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