Randall’s Island in New York City. Photo: Instagram (@nct1029jr)
MORE: Five teams advance to final round of qualifying in first weekend
The New York Pancyprian Freedoms are one step closer to its first US Open Cup berth since 2011 after defeating Jersey Shore Boca 2-1 Saturday in a qualifying match for the 2016 tournament.
On a cold evening on the turf field at Randall’s Island, former New York Red Bulls and Long Island Rough Riders player Chris Megaloudis scored what proved to be the game-winner just before halftime.
The Freedoms, who won the US Open Cup three times in the 1980s, advance to the final round of qualifying against an opponent to be announced sometime after Jan. 1. The final round is scheduled for early April.
The teams spent the first five minutes feeling each other out, keeping the play mostly between the boxes, but that soft tempo would not last long. In the 12th minute, winger Keith Dejetl found some space just outside the Boca box and blasted a shot into the upper corner beating keeper Charles Cunliffe to take a 1-0 lead.
The play got physical when former New York Cosmos player Stefan Dimitrov went up for a header with James Nelson. Nelson came down holding his eye after an errant elbow caught him causing some bruising. The Boca midfielder had to come off for a few minutes for treatment.
The Jersey team ratcheting up pressure continuing to press forward into the Pancyprian half. In the 20th minute, defender Bryant Avalos pushed up during a Boca corner attempt and after New York failed to clear the ball, it bounced out to Avalos who fired an open shot over the bar from about 20 yards out.
The increase in intensity would pay off for Boca in the 41st minute when a through ball from Chris Katona beat the New York defense leaving Thomas Gray one-on-one with keeper, Nick Takarny. Gray pushed the ball smoothly past the sliding goalie to pull New Jersey level.
It looked like the game was headed into the halftime break all even until the final minute of the half arrived. New York striker Yannk Reyering would find Megaloudis open on the back post for an easy tap in that gave the Pancyprians their second lead of the game, 2-1.
New Jersey came out knowing they needed to change their strategy to get a second goal. They brought on midfielder Sean Casey to help direct traffic from in front of the defense. He would replace Christian Bonzinos to start the second half.
The second half played much different from the first. During the first 45, the referee called a handful of fouls for some aggressive play. In the second stanza, not only were there more fouls, but also more cautions. About 10 minutes into the half, Jersey Shore’s Katona was cautioned and nearly picked up a second five minutes later for a hard tackle.
In the 64the minute, Boca would change the formation again adding Michael Lyons to the team replacing James Nelson. A few minutes after that, Bryant Avalos would pick up a yellow caution as the referee worked to keep the play physical but fair.
New York would bring in their first substitute in the 73rd minute as Frank Spanos replaced Vasillis Atoniou giving the Pancyprians some fresh legs to keep up with the runs of the Boca attackers. It would prove to be a smart move by head coach, Stratis Mastrokyriakos. Even with New Jersey applying more and more pressure they were never able to put away the equalizer. Two more late subs, Panagiotis Halkidis for Keith Detejl and John Koutsounadis replaced former MLS player Jeff Matteo to eat away the final two minutes of stoppage time.
Following the game, Mastrokyriakos through a translator, commented that despite having to play at a neutral site (their home field, Belson Stadium at St John’s University, was unavailable for the match), the Pancyprians were still the better team for the majority of the game and had more opportunities. He is very happy that the team won and is advancing to the next round, it’s very important to the players and to the club.
Michael Anderer writes for Soccer Long Island Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @SoccerLIMag