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Open Cup Preview: If Steel FC win, they’re in

Photo courtesy Steel FC
2020 US Open Cup Qualifying – Third Round

Steel FC (USASA / Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League) vs Christos FC
(USASA / Maryland Major Soccer League)

North County HS – Glen Burnie, MD | Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET  | LIVE VIDEO: NONE

Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League side Steel FC have one more big step to go.

After earning a pair of wins in September and October the Open Division Local Qualifying Tournament for the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, they’ve now reached the third, and final step.

Steel FC are playing in the last of 12 qualifying contests this weekend, against a club that’s been down this road before, Christos FC.

On Friday, the United States Soccer Federation announced that this would be the final round of the competition. To put it simply, it’s “Win & You’re In” weekend.

According to the USSF’s announcement:

The fourth qualifying round, which was conditionally scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 21-22, has been removed from the competition calendar. The U.S. Open Cup Committee made this decision today after reviewing the number of professional teams expected to be eligible for the 2020 tournament and projecting the berths available for Open Division clubs.

“The team is very excited to head down to Maryland on Sunday. We have a strong squad going and are hoping to come home with the same result as the last time we played them back in April,” Brian Luchini, Steel FC manager said.”Christos is a very good team. Based on their roster, the majority of their players are ex-D1 soccer players, semi-professional players, and professional players”

Luchini’s squad have passed its first two tests in this tournament, both times playing at home, winning 3-1 in September against Germantown FC, then beating its local rivals Tartan Devils FC, 2-1, in overtime in October at Highmark Stadium.

Now, Steel FC have a new challenge in going on the road for the first time in this competition to take on Christos, a team that has already made it to the proper US Open Cup tournament.

Christos FC made national headlines in their tournament debut back in 2016 after the club scored an opening, free-kick goal against MLS side D.C. United. Despite ultimately losing the game, 4-1, the team named after a liquor store that never practices has become a known commodity in soccer circles. Christos bowed of the tournament after one game the following year in 2017 and missed it entirely in 2018, but added a USASA Werner Fricker Amateur Open Cup trophy back in 2018.

This year in qualifying, the team has only played one game thanks to a first round bye. In the second round, the team made short work of Federal City Wanderers, 7-1, where Peter Caringi III scored a hat-trick for the team and landed a spot on the top goalscorers list.

“They are not short on talent. When we played them back in April they were definitely a possession team. They like to work the ball around the midfield, switch play from flank to flank, and attack gaps behind the midfielders and in front of the defenders to exploit and make runs off of. They are crafty and have been successful in that style of play,’ Luchini added. “They are a quality team and it shows. It will definitely be a tough test for us and I’m excited to see my team step up and play to the best of their ability. It came down to 1-0 score with us on the right side last time out, and we are hoping to repeat that success. It will be a dogfight.”

Luchini’s squad have shown they belong, combining plenty of dangerous offensive firepower from the likes of Lamine Balde, Christian Lewandowski, Max Flick — and creativity of midfield players such as Rob Hueler and Matt Bishoff — they have scored five times in two matches.

Steel FC’s also brings a strong defensive side.

How strong? Just ask Greg Annan, forward for GPSL rival Tartan Devils FC.

“They have a strong back line. Against them, you have to get to the ball first, then try to create immediately,” Annan said. “They give you nothing. Even a player like me, who’s a quicker player, their strength negates things, makes it harder. You see a lot of chippy little fouls called. That’s their game. It works for them.”

Having gone through the first two rounds of qualifying, Steel FC are right at the doorstep and need just one more win to enter the proper Open Cup tournament which will begin next Spring.

“The Open Cup has definitely given my team the opportunity to play against the top teams in the region and to see where we stack up. With only one Pittsburgh team ever competing in this tournament on a consistent basis before, it is great to throw our hat in the mix and show that we can be competitive in a quality tournament like this and deserve to be taken seriously as an amateur team,’ Luchini said. “Heading into this third round after already knocking off Germantown City FC and Tartan Devils FC gives my team confidence that they can compete with the regions best.”

“My guys are excited for the opportunity to grab one more win and etch their name in the history books of amateur teams who have made it all the way to the proper, all while representing Pittsburgh. We look forward to the matchup and can hopefully continue our Open Cup dreams into 2020.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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