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Come for the train, stay for the goals: Two USL Championship underdogs down MLS opposition in midweek US Open Cup fixtures

As the tail end of the nation’s oldest and most storied soccer tournament approaches, two second-division teams continue to linger. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Birmingham Legion both welcomed MLS opposition into their humble abodes for the US Open Cup Round of 16 and won more than just the hearts of those watching.

On the banks of the Monongahela River, in a city more known for its Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, the aptly named Riverhounds feasted. Sandwiched between massive league fixtures, Columbus decided to put out a weakened team for their midweek fixture and paid the price as Pittsburgh advanced off a 1-0 scoreline. 

In a gap large enough to park a bus, Cameroonian forward Albert Dikwa coasted through the Crew’s defense and found himself on the end of an incisive pass from midfielder Robbie Mertz. As he barreled through on goal, faced with only the keeper to beat, the USL Championship’s top-scorer calmly picked his spot and slotted the ball into the back of the net, sending the packed Highmark Stadium into pandemonium. 

This proved to be just one of the talking points as the match featured a brilliant cameo from a train that runs just between the stadium and the river. With upsets and industrial interruptions, how could you possibly not love local American soccer?

Down south, right in the middle of Alabama, the Legion welcomed Charlotte FC to Protective Stadium with a chance of their own “cupset” looming large. Led by a host of former MLS talents, including Juan Agudelo, Birmingham faced its toughest test of the Open Cup like champs with a 1-0 win of their own.

Just before the hour mark, Ghanaian forward Prosper Kasim found the net with a finish from distance that was so good they literally turned the lights off. 

For their efforts, Pittsburgh will be rewarded with a trip to TQL Stadium for a date with FC Cincinnati while Birmingham will again play host when Inter Miami comes to town. At stake is a chance to advance to the Open Cup semifinals in August. Pittsburgh has two MLS teams in its rearview mirror already and Birmingham is playing at home, so as long as MLS teams continue to put out weakened lineups, who’d count them out?

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