It was cafe versus pub in Saturday’s 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup qualifying match in Charlottesville, Va., with the home side Aromas Cafe FC defeating the Tartan Devils Oak Avalon of Pittsburgh, 3-1.
The Tartan Devils, who are undefeated in their last two seasons in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League. were tense coming off their five-hour trip south and Aromas Cafe imposed their will in the first 45 minutes. The Virginians had the better of the chances and finally converted one right before halftime when they sprung a counterattack around the 40th minute. An Aromas player slipped a pass through the face of goal with Price Thomas on the other end to drive home the game’s first goal.
Hope for a second half comeback for the Devils quickly suffered a setback when a penalty kick was awarded to Aromas three minutes into the second half. Dangerous striker Jake Van Yahres was taken down in the box by a Tartan Devils defender. Van Yahres then scored the spot kick to double Aromas’ lead.
Five minutes later, the Devils flipped the switch through a quick response from former Pittsburgh Riverhound Travis McKenzie. Midfielder Greg Annan turned a couple defenders before finding McKenzie in space, who then split the two center backs and fired a shot past the keeper.
It was then the traveling team on the front foot for the next half hour with belief restored. Tartans Devils had an opportunity to level, but a one-on-one with the Aromas keeper was fired over the crossbar.
Legs started to wilt in crunch time for the Steel City soccer team. The final substitution for Tartan Devils twisted an ankle. Once another player began cramping up, they essentially closed the match with nine men. Despite fighting valiantly through the disadvantage, Thomas sealed the match for Aromas at the stroke of full time with his second goal of the day.
“In the first half we came out flat and showed them too much respect,” said Tartan Devils player coach Andy Kalas. “We weren’t confident enough. In the final 35 minutes we were playing much better. In these kind of tournaments you have no idea what to expect from the opposition, and (Aromas) had two or three playmakers that really took it to us.”
Aromas Café FC will continue their qualifying campaign at home next month against Open Cup regulars, Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks FC. The game is scheduled for Nov. 15 at 3 p.m.