Open Cup | New York City FC II vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks Preview


The New York City FC II players already know they’re making history when they step on the field Wednesday night.

For the first time in its illustrious history, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup invited teams from MLS Next PRO to participate in the competition. Of the eleven teams to accept, ten have fallen, leaving only New York City FC II standing.

Historically, New York has a proud history in the U.S. Open Cup, with 26 titles and 13 runners-up hailing from the state. That legacy is not lost on those competing for the crown in 2024.

“That's something that we kind of emphasize,” forward Taylor Calheira said. “We’re not only playing for our badge, but the whole state of New York.”

Their journey to the last 32 of the competition has been memorable. The run began in neighboring New Jersey against FC Motown where a comfortable 3-0 victory was inspired by a goal from Calheira in the ninth minute.

That provided the opportunity for a Hudson River Derby against Red Bulls in the next round. That night belonged to Calheira’s teammate Jonathan Jiménez. The forward’s hat-trick was central to City emerging 4-2 winners – a result that earned them bragging rights and a meeting with USL Championship side Hartford Athletic in the next round.

On paper, the trip to Hartford, Connecticut was by far the sternest test City had faced in the competition. Hartford were on average older and more experienced than their opposition, with several of those involved for Hartford counting MLS experience on their resumé.

A wet and windy night in the Nutmeg state saw 120 minutes of grueling action end with tempers flaring and several red cards. More important than that, however, was the result. Another City win, this time by a 3-2 scoreline, with Calheira and Jiménez starring once again – their budding partnership delivering two of City’s three goals.

“That's a good question,” Calheira said with a smile when asked which of the two games, Red Bulls or Hartford, he’d like to replay if he could.

“Honestly, I would probably say Red Bulls just because it was my first derby game. For me personally, the crowd that we had was awesome and you know, they're playing the drums and chanting for us.”

His teammate had a different perspective.

“Maybe the Hartford game,” Jiménez said. “I think the fact that we were younger side and went into overtime and we were able to get a result is huge.

“For me, there were two moments where our energy went up [against Hartford]. The first was at halftime when we got in the locker room and coach Matt said let's wipe the first half away, that half is done.

“I also think I enjoyed the Hartford game more because I was seeing everyone fight for each other - we always had each other's back. There was, I don't know how many scuffles, but we all had each other's back and that just shows the kind of the kind of team that we are.”

When reflecting on their journey in the competition both men are quick to commend their head coach Matt Pilkington. Pilkington has been a key figure during the emergence of New York City FC II, and his consistency as a coach along with the trust he instills in his players are both greatly appreciated.

“Honestly, he brings a calmness to locker room,” Jiménez said. “He tells everyone what to do and gets everyone in their correct spots. Nothing really changes. He respects opponents but he has full confidence in us.”


For Calheira, who only joined the team in January, the influence of Pilkington’s methods have been vital.

“He has a ton of experience, and he knows how to deal with every player in their position at a very high level,” he said. “Since I've been here, he has given me so much confidence. I know that he trusts me and every single one of the players. He knows that we all have the ability to beat any team that we play, and him having our back and the experience that he has is amazing.”

When not drawing inspiration from their teammates on the field or from Pilkington in the dugout, City’s players have been equally as inspired by the fans that have followed their journey, both home and away. The presence of City fans during all three games has not gone unnoticed by either player.

“It's huge for us,” Jiménez said. “We have our own internal motivations, but to have that external motivator, and them playing the drums, screaming for us, screaming at the ref, it's just adding pressure to the game, and it keeps us going. I'm excited to see the crowd that we'll get on Wednesday, because we’re at home, but yeah, we’re very grateful for them.”

Belson Stadium, in Queens, is the setting for Wednesday’s clash against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. New York City FC II has a chance to add another chapter to the story that has been their Open Cup run in 2024. A place in the Round of 16 would be another huge achievement, but neither Calheira nor Jiménez are allowing themselves to think that far ahead.

“I want to win,” Jiménez said, his teammate nodding in agreement. “We’re mission focused. I have my pregame rituals. I'll pray, I’ll eat the right foods, but right before that first whistle, I’ll be mission focused and ready to score.”

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