Duluth FC, the 2017 North Conference champions and 2018 Midwest Regional champions, will start their second ever U.S. Open Cup campaign tonight, when they visit the Des Moines Menace in the first round of the tournament.
Des Moines are a historied club in the Open Cup, with a history of knocking out names above their pay grade, including the Minnesota Thunder in 2006 and Minnesota United in 2013. Their most recent cup upset was a 2016 second round victory over the Tulsa Roughnecks of the USL. Tulsa did register a poor season that year, finishing last in the Western Conference of the USL with a 5-4-21 record.
Des Moines did not qualify for the 2018 Open Cup. However, the club did manage to complete a hugely dominant regular season in the PDL, now USL League Two. They ended the year with a 13-1-0 record, though their playoff run was short-lived after losing to Chicago FC United.
Duluth had a stand out 2018, hosting and playing in two Open Cup rounds against the Dakota Fusion and Saint Louis FC. The second match, the club’s first against professional opposition, broke the club’s attendance record. Despite ending 2-0 to Saint Louis, the competitiveness shown by the BlueGreens would prove to foreshadow their eventual success in the post-season.
Despite losing the conference title after a 4-2 loss to Minneapolis City in the second-to-last week of play, Duluth would go into the playoffs and register three straight wins against Grand Rapids, City, and AFC Ann Arbor. Goalkeeper Alberto Ciroi would come up big as a late sub against Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, making a combined four saves in the penalty shootouts which resolved both matches. Ciroi also saved a penalty in the Open Cup first round match against the Fusion.
Wednesday’s match will be the first between the two sides, though Duluth Head Coach Joel Person will be bringing plenty of familiarity with the league-formerly known as the PDL, having played for three of its clubs, including the Jackson Chargers, Michigan Bucks, and Chicago Eagles.
Duluth FC will face Des Moines off the back of the season and home opener on May 5th, a 2-0 win against the Sioux Falls Thunder. While Duluth will have played one match, Des Moines will have played no competitive matches heading into Wednesday, with their season starting the following weekend. In fact, both clubs will be playing a league match the following Saturday, May 11th. Duluth will play the Maplebrook TwinStars at home, while the Menace will face the Green Bay Voyageurs away at Green Bay.
Duluth will have several returning players from previous seasons, including the ever-dangerous Joe Watt and shot stopper Alberto Ciroi. But the northshore club’s first match of 2019 showed that it may be the new arrivals that Des Moines should watch for, with winger Ronaldo Fortune earning a goal and assist, while new faces Carlyle Junior and Lucas Mustajo registering a goal and assist respectively.
The match, along with the entirety of the tournament, will be streamed on ESPN+. The winner of Wednesday’s match will play Saint Louis FC in the second round, with Duluth traveling if triumphant and Des Moines hosting if successful.