For the first time in its history, Icon FC has guaranteed their place in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tournament.
Much like they did to oust last year’s US Open Cup qualifier Jersey Shore Boca in the state semifinals, they needed penalty kicks to advance to the next round. The game was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes and after a scoreless extra time, Icon and the Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks ended up going to seven rounds of spot kicks to determine who would represent Region I in the 100th edition of the Open Cup. Icon FC was victorious in the shootout, 7-6, and with that, they advance to the Region I Final, which also clinches a berth in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
They will await the winner of Newtown Pride SC and Mass Premier Soccer in the other semifinal which will be played on Sunday, April 28.
Throughout the game, both teams played well and it proved to be a relatively even game throughout the 120 minutes played.
During the first half, both teams were able to create good goal scoring opportunities. Icon’s first chance came in the ninth minute when after a scuffle in the box Argjent Duka’s shot was saved by the Hawks’ goalkeeper Chris Fenner. A couple minutes later it was the Hawks’ turn to have shot on goal. Robby Wright crossed the ball low into the box, Icon keeper Chris Duggan wasn’t able to hold on to it and Hawk forward Watson Vaughan-Prather took advantage, but his shot went over the cross bar. After this opportunity the game continued even as one team continued to put pressure on the other. Both teams fought for the ball in the midfield.
The next best chance for Icon came in the 33rd minute when Nelson Bercerra’s close-range shot in front of goal was blocked by a Hawk defender. During the last minute of the first half the Hawks had another opportunity from a free kick when Ernest Marquez’s cross was almost headed in by Vaughan-Prather.
Both teams came out on fire in the second half, with the Hawks creating an opportunity in the first minute when Marquez’s cross into the box was met with a shot from Wright, but Duggan managed to come up with a save for Icon. However, Icon scored first in the 64th minute when Kevin Garcia controlled the ball in the area and shot the ball past the keeper from a cross from Custidiano Michael. Even though Icon was up 1-0, the Hawks continued to play well and you could sense that they believed that they could still score.
Then with ten minutes to go, when it seemed that Icon was going to win the game, the Hawks equalized when Scott Larrabee’s cross was tapped in by Sam Scales.
After the equalizer, Nelson Becerra had an opportunity to score off a free kick, but his shot went over the cross bar. Danny Irizarry also took a low shot from outside the box for the Hawks, but his shot went wide. After ninety minutes the game was still tied and the regional semifinal went to extra time.
During the first 15 minutes of extra time, Icon was the better team. Their best chance came when Becerra noticed the Hawks’ goalkeeper was off his line and he tried to chip the ball over the keeper from a distance, but the ball went over the bar. Daniel Fernandez also had a good opportunity for Icon when his shot from inside the box sailed over the cross bar.
The Hawks’ best chance in extra time came in the second half when Vaughan-Prather was able to beat an Icon defender to take a shot, but his shot went wide. After the referee blew the final extra time whistle, the teams began to prepare for the penalty shootout.
The Hawks went first with Sam Scales converting the team’s first penalty. Danny Szetela was also able to comfortably tie the shootout for Icon. Next, Watson Vaughan-Prather put away his attempt for the Hawks and Jonathan Lopuski did the same for Icon. Danny Irizarry was also able to successfully put the ball in the net. Hawks goalkeeper Chris Fenner made the first save of the shootout when he kept Nelson Becerra’s ball from going in the net. Icon goalkeeper Chris Duggan also came up big when he saved the Hawks’ fourth shot from Michael Goldman.
Andy Cesti had the opportunity to tie the shootout for Icon, but Chris Fenner also saved his shot. All Mateus Dos Anjos had to do was convert the Hawks’ final penalty shot to take his team to the final, but Chris Duggan kept his team in the game with a huge save. Garcia, the goalscorer for Icon, kept his team in the game when he put his ball into the back of the net, taking the shootout to sudden death.
The Hawks converted their first three sudden death shots, and Icon answered with three of their own. The turning point in the shootout came when Devlin Barnes shot his attempt low and wide of the goal giving Icon the advantage. The game winning shot was given to Custidiano Michael and he comfortably put the ball in the net to take his team to the Region I final for the first time.
Icon FC becomes just the second New Jersey-based USASA club to qualify for the US Open Cup in the Modern Professional Era (1995-present), with the first coming last year with Jersey Shore Boca. Icon eliminated Boca in the state semifinals in penalty kicks.