Countdown to USL Cup: Can Rangers become first visiting team to win USL Cup Final?

For the second straight year, the Swope Park Rangers are on the precipice of USL Cup glory. The back-to-back Western Conference champions advanced to this exact stage in 2016, only to fall short of a league title in their inaugural season. With unfinished business still at hand, the Rangers will travel to face Louisville City in the 2017 USL Cup Final on Monday, Nov. 13, airing live nationally at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

During the week leading up to the championship match, will visit seven relevant storylines surrounding the biggest game of the United Soccer League season. In Part Two, we examine the results of previous USL Cup Finals and the implications they might have on Monday’s matchup.

As the saying goes, something’s got to give.

The Swope Park Rangers are fighting an uphill battle against history, looking to become the first road team to win a USL Cup Final after six previous visiting teams have failed.

The same can be said of Louisville City FC, albeit to a lesser extent. Ever since Major League Soccer launched its partnership with the United Soccer League in 2013, an MLS affiliate has been crowned USL champion each year.

Below is a look at each USL Cup Final dating back to the league’s inaugural 2011 season. The Rangers have the proud distinction of being the first club to make back-to-back appearances in the championship game, having fallen to New York Red Bulls II last October at Red Bull Arena.

(Home team in bold)

Year Champions Score Runners-Up
2011 Orlando City SC 2-2 (3-2) Harrisburg City Islanders
2012 Charleston Battery 1-0 Wilmington Hammerheads
2013 Orlando City SC * 7-4 Charlotte Eagles
2014 Sacramento Republic FC * 2-0 Harrisburg City Islanders *
2015 Rochester Rhinos * 2-1 LA Galaxy *
2016 New York Red Bulls II * 5-1 Swope Park Rangers *

* Shared an affiliation with an MLS club

The closest a road team has won to lifting the USL Cup was in 2011, when the Harrisburg City Islanders battled Orlando City SC to a 2-2 draw before falling in penalties at the Citrus Bowl. The Rochester Rhinos experienced a close shave of their own in 2015, emerging 2-1 victors over LA Galaxy II after extra time in upstate New York.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for head coach Nikola Popovic and the Rangers. As mentioned above, the previous four USL Cup champions have shared an affiliation with an MLS club. Orlando City was Sporting KC’s USL affiliate in 2013 when current SPR captain Christian Duke and the Lions defeated the Charlotte Eagles by a jaw-dropping 7-4 scoreline.

Sacramento Republic FC lifted the title in 2014 as an affiliate of the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes. Rochester achieved cup glory as the New England Revolution’s affiliate in 2015 before Red Bulls II took the crown last year.

Orlando City’s jump to MLS in 2015 coincided with the berth of Louisville City FC. The clubs shared an affiliation in 2015, but the birth of Orlando City B in 2016 has seen Louisville operate without an MLS partner for the last two seasons.

If past experience plays any role in deciding the outcome on Monday night, the Rangers appear to hold a slight edge in that department as well. Only one player on the current Louisville roster has appeared in a previous USL Cup Final, as defender Sean Totsch started and played 66 minutes for Rochester in the 2015 championship. The Rangers, meanwhile, return six players who featured in last year’s game against Red Bulls II — namely Duke, Adrian Zendejas, Oumar Ballo, Amer Didic, Mark Anthony Gonzalez and Tyler Pasher. Duke, a two-year captain of SPR who has played all 69 games in club history, is poised to make his third USL Cup Final appearance.