The Houston Dynamo begin their quest in the 2017 edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night when they face North Carolina FC at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina (6:30 p.m. CT | HoustonDynamo.com/live). The club enters the competition in the fourth round, customary for MLS teams.
It will be the Dynamo’s 11th appearance in the 104-year-old tournament, making it as far as the semifinals on two occasions. This will be the club’s first meeting against the NASL side formerly known as the Carolina Railhawks, who boast a 6-6 record against MLS teams.
“It’s very important for us. Any game is important for us” said head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “It’s going to be a good mix, where they have a good mentality, we know them and they know us, and they can go for a win against a tough opponent who, for them, is also the most important game of the year.”
Wednesday’s match will be the first of two games in four days for the Dynamo. It is a unique challenge for Houston as they play a cup match on the east coast mid-week before shifting their focus to their league bout on Saturday with the LA Galaxy, over 2,500 miles across the country.
“We’re going East Coast to West Coast,” said Cabrera. “We have to split the team, and we have to connect with the players from the national team. We have three groups right now, and this is the way it is for us, we have to live with that. No excuses. We work, we manage, and we go and play.”
The five players out on international duty are DaMarcus Beasley (USA), Adolfo Machado (Panama), Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis, and Boniek Garcia (Honduras). These five will rejoin the team later in the week and are expected to be up for selection for the match at Los Angeles.
To help with the absences and travel challenge, Cabrera has chosen to call up seven players from the team's USL affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC: defender Kai Greene, midfielders Eric Bird, Jorginho James, Charlie Ward and forwards Ruben Luna, Camilo Monroy and Kyle Murphy. Six of seven reinforcements were with RGVFC last season when Cabrera coached them to the USL playoffs in their inaugural season.
“I am thankful to Wilmer for the opportunity,” said Ward. “Wednesday, we need to get a win for us who are having an opportunity and for the club as well; it will be big to keep the club in the run for it and hopefully win it.”
Because of the elimination format of the tournament, the teams would have to play two 15-minute halves of extra time in the event of a tie in regulation. If a winner is not determined after extra time, one will be decided via the penalty shootout.
“It’s the most important game for some of these players, the most important game of their life,” said Cabrera. “We need to grow as a team, and as a club, and if they want to be part of the first team with the Houston Dynamo, it’s going to be a chance for them to perform.”