As always, the most recent round in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup featured plenty of great action, goals and surprising results.
Some teams undoubtedly took the tournament more seriously than others, and some lower-division players made their marks by getting on the scoresheet or putting on a solid defensive showing.
Let's examine the three biggest things we learned from the fourth round.
I've always taken the US Open Cup seriously. In addition to the inherent excitement of single-game knockout tournaments, the winner receives $250,000 and a berth into the CONCACAF Champions League.
All this for winning only five games, with possibly three of them being against lower-level opposition. It seems like a no-brainer teams should field strong lineups for this tournament.
It's obvious why the lower-level clubs take the Cup seriously. It's their only chance to prove themselves against the best sides in North America. However, they often end up playing reserve squads.
Due to the importance of MLS play, many MLS managers save their regulars for MLS play and give players who don't get many minutes time.
Dominic Kinnear is a prime example of this. The Houston Dynamo played their Cup match against FC Dallas in between back-to-back bye weeks, but his starting XI still consisted of mostly reserve players.
The Dynamo got thumped 3-0 by their Texas rivals. Dom has never taken the tournament seriously, and that's the only real criticism I have of him as a coach.
Columbus and Philadelphia also used a lot of second team players in their respective fixtures, and both lost; however, they were against MLS teams. The Portland Timbers also used a reserve squad, but were facing off against NASL opposition.
New York and New England were both mostly reserve sides when they faced off against each other, and the Revs didn't pay for that decision as they prevailed 4-2.
Fans don't take the tournament too seriously in general. The Portland Timbers nearly set an all-time low for attendance after just over 5,000 witnessed a mostly reserve side defeat the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0.
Although it was $15 to see a reserve side beat a lower-league side, if Portland wants to be considered Soccer City, USA as many supporters claim it is, they'll need to do better than that. Looking around the league, many stadiums had more than half of the stadium totally unoccupied.
Credit goes out to Real Salt Lake, however, as they were able to get over 13,000 for an encounter against the lower-league Charleston Battery, in what turned out to be the goalfest of the day, a 5-2 extra time win for RSL.
Overall, the US Open Cup is still totally unknown to non-soccer fans, and only really big fans care to follow it. The more casual ones probably think one competition is enough to keep up with.
Out of the eight midweek fixtures in the 100th Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, four featured lower-level clubs. Out of those four, twice the lower-level team was victorious. While upsets are always expected in a domestic cup competition, the fights some of these clubs put up were quite frankly shocking.
The less surprising of the two upsets was definitely the Carolina RailHawks' 3-1 extra-time victory over Chivas USA. Chivas have had a miserable season, bottom of the Western Conference in MLS and recently sacking their manager.
Carolina beat the LA Galaxy for the second straight year in the third round and are currently top of the NASL. As you can see from my predictions posted a few days ago, I picked the Hawks to get the W. This result didn't really surprise me.
What did surprise me was Sporting KC's USL-Pro affiliate, Orlando City SC, heading up to Sporting Park and grinding out a 1-0 win. After a controversy where Sporting KC refused to let several players they had loaned out to Orlando play in the match, Orlando won anyway.
Star striker Dom Dwyer and a couple of other starters were out, and Orlando still managed to defeat the Open Cup holders. This was a pretty strong XI for KC as well, and they looked out of ideas and unable to break apart a solid back line after a very early goal for Orlando shocked the visitors. 10/10 performance for the visitors.
This was also a huge win for them because they were recently passed over to become the 20th MLS franchise, with NYCFC being chosen. A good showing helps them get closer to being the 21st.
Another big game was RSL vs Charleston. The visiting Battery jumped out to a shocking 2-0 lead in just under 20 minutes, but RSL was able to get the two goals back and level the match before the whistle blew (albeit from a questionable penalty). Then they exploded for three goals in extra time. While Charleston's effort was valiant, sometimes quality just shines through.
That's right, I said it. Will they? Probably not. Could they? Certainly.
Playing without explosive striker Dom Dwyer and several other key players because Sporting KC wouldn't let them play, they still managed to grind out a victory. It wasn't pretty, but they did it.
That should scare MLS teams. What can they do when Dwyer comes back into the thick of things?
Their next Cup assignment is a trip to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinals. Generally, as the tournament goes on, teams' chances of winning it increases, so they put out stronger lineups.
But City beat a very strong KC side (basically minus only three starters) without four players, and now get them back against a team that's, honestly, worse than KC. I think they'll get a victory.
Let's not forget they defeated the Colorado Rapids 3-1 on home soil, with Dwyer netting a brace. If they get a semi-final and final at home, who's to say they can't win it all?
My pick to win it all, however, is the Portland Timbers. They can get a win in many different situations and survive tough draws. Following closely are RSL and FC Dallas, with the young guns in New England a dark horse to win the competition.