Arizona United SC has only been a USL PRO franchise for about two months. But it secured the most important win in club history to date on Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup third round, and earned the right to go after an even bigger victory in a few weeks.
Midfielder Bradlee Baladez gave the home side a 2-1 lead in the 112th minute, the second 15-minute overtime period, and goalkeeper Evan Newton saved a penalty in the 119th minute to preserve the win for Arizona United over Oklahoma City Energy FC.
The win sent AZ United into the fourth round of the annual American club championship tournament, where it will host the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer on June 18.
“It’s a big opportunity for a lot of us guys,” Baladez said. “We’re excited and we’re going to be ready.”
AZ United seemed to have the match in hand after the 47th minute, when the Energy’s Michael Thomas was shown a straight red card for a hard challenge. But it took Arizona until the 84th minute to capitalize on the man advantage, when Jon Okafor scored to give his team a 1-0 lead.
All Arizona United had to do was hang on for six-plus minutes, but it could not. Kyle Greigh delivered a low header into the net in the second minute of stoppage time, stunning the crowd of 1,538 on a hot night and sending the match into two overtime periods.
Arizona United looked stagnant through the first overtime, but got a break in the second when Baladez slotted home a pass from Kadeem Dacres to make the score 2-1.
Again, Arizona United hurt itself with a key mistake. Joey Dillon drew a red card in the 114th minute, making the teams even strength again. Then a handball in the box with about two minutes left in the second overtime gave OKC a penalty kick, and Christian Duke stepped up to take it.
Newton guessed correctly and sprawled out for the save, and Arizona United walked off the pitch with a second straight Open Cup win.
“We didn’t close it well,” Newton said of regulation time. “The biggest thing was the mentality after that. It’s an important tournament and we want to do well. That’s something that we as a group decided we wanted to focus on, as well as the league.”
Oklahoma City had defeated Arizona United in Peoria in the club’s home USL PRO opener last month. Tickets for the Galaxy match went on sale directly after the game. OKC ‘s first Open Cup ended with a win and loss.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Arizona United GK Evan Newton. Made four saves including two in overtime, and one of those on a PK that wuld surely have sent the game into a PK shootout had he not stopped it. His coach said Newton was the man of the match not only for that save but for keeping the team in a scoreless draw with a pair of first-half stops. AZU’s win was the second one dramatic fashion in the US Open Cup after a comeback win over Portland Timbers U-23s earlier this month, and they will play the LA Galaxy at home on June 18 thanks to Wednesday’s win.