Minnesota's path to the US Open Cup, at least for the first two rounds, is now set - and the path involves two trips away from home.
United will face the Des Moines Menace next Wednesday, May 28, at 7:30pm, at the Menace's home in West Des Moines. Should Minnesota beat the fourth-division Menace - something they couldn't accomplish last season, let's remember - they will travel to Sporting Kansas City in mid-June for the next round, playing the MLS side at 7:30pm on Wednesday, June 18 at Sporting Park.
There was some confusion about the fourth-round game in Kansas City, at least from a Minnesota standpoint. With both MLS and the NASL taking a break in June for the beginning of the World Cup, neither Minnesota nor Kansas City has a game scheduled for the weekend of June 14 - an attractive proposition for Minnesota fans who were hoping to make the trip south for the potential fourth-round tie. Instead, the game is scheduled for the following Wednesday night.
I talked to Chris Wyche, Sporting KC's executive vice president of stadium operations, to get some clarification on why the game is happening on a Wednesday. It turns out there are two reasons; for one, while Minnesota doesn't have a game scheduled that weekend, Des Moines does. While KC might have liked to have the game on a Saturday, they also want to start selling tickets - and would prefer to sell those tickets for a set date, rather than have the game depend on which opponent they might play.
Last season, KC drew more than 15,000 fans for a Tuesday-night game against Des Moines in the same competition, so clearly playing on a weeknight is not too much of a concern for the team, from a ticket-sales standpoint.
KC is also entirely replacing the field at Sporting Park, beginning on June 2, in order to change the type of grass in the field to a strain that will better survive the hot and humid East Kansas summer. The US Open Cup game will be the first to take place on the new field, and having the game on June 18 rather than June 14 will give the field an extra four days to take root. Combine the two reasons, and it makes perfect sense that the game would be on June 18.
First, though, is next week's game in Des Moines - which as mentioned, is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. United also has the spring season to worry about, with games on the Saturdays on either side of the Wednesday trip to Iowa.
Interestingly, the Menace also have games on both weekends that bookend the US Open Cup match - with the second taking place against United's reserve team. If the main squad can't beat the Menace on Wednesday, perhaps the reserves can do the job the following weekend.