It was a night of firsts for the Ocala Stampede of the PDL—the most important being the club’s first US Open Cup victory in the 100th incarnation of the storied tournament.
The Stampede were making their first Open Cup appearance, qualifying by winning the PDL’s Southeast Division last year. Their opponents were Red Force, the only USASA squad from Florida to enter the tournament this year. Playing at Red Force’s home field at Florida International University Stadium, the Stampede were able to pull out a 4-2 victory.
Jack Bailey scored Ocala’s first-ever Open Cup goal in the 8th minute. Controlling play early, Ocala’s Sam Duininck found Bailey with a cross, which the forward was able to convert into an early goal.
The home side would soon respond, however. In the 21st minute, Heber Hernandez took a free kick that was deflected into the Ocala net, evening the game at one apiece.
The game remained tied through the rest of the first half, but that changed early in the second. The Stampede’s Kenny Hogg was fouled in the Red Force penalty area almost immediately after the whistle to start the half. Hogg stepped up to take the penalty himself, converting in the 46th minute to give Ocala a 2-1 lead.
Red Force, which competes in the SSM Premier League, rallied a second time in front of its home fans. Hernandez was at the forefront again, hitting a rocket of a volley from twenty yards out that Stampede keeper Alex Bolowich could not save. The score was now knotted at 2-2, with momentum seemingly in Red Force’s favor. An Ocala substitution would change all of that, however.
Ocala brought in midfielder Christian Blandon in the 60th minute, and he immediately made his mark. Less than two minutes after entering the game, Blandon found Hogg, who laid the ball off to Bailey. The Ocala forward became the first Stampede player to earn a brace in Open Cup play when he calmly slid the ball past the Red Force goalie and into the net.
After a span of physical play, Hogg put the game away with his second goal of the game. Red Force did not have any more comebacks left in them, and Ocala came away with its first US Open Cup victory.
With the win, Ocala earned the right to host its first Open Cup home game. The Stampede will take on Orlando City SC of USL Pro in Round Two. Next Tuesday, they will be hoping for one more first—an upset victory over a professional side.