A scoreless draw is often left unwatched. This one should not have been, as two storied Fourth Division sides in Chattanooga FC and Reading United AC played a classic Second Round Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match before 3,641 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.
After 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, Chattanooga prevailed in penalty kicks 4-1 to advance to the Third Round. It was the third time in the last two years that Chattanooga has won a penalty kick shootout in the US Open Cup.
Reading United, playing their third competitive match in eight days, came out strong for the first 15 minutes. However, a few forays into the Chattanooga box produced few bona fide scoring opportunities and the home side, themselves playing just their second competitive match of the season, started to wrest control. In the 16th minute, Chattanooga’s John “Snoopy” Davidson, who plays his college ball at Covenant College, got on the end of a corner, heading a shot just wide.
Just like he had been shutting out the Atlanta Silverbacks in Round 1 a week ago, Steffan Kraus was brilliant in this match, particularly as Chattanooga FC started to turn the tide in the final 20 minutes of the first half. Off a corner kick in the 28th minute, Kraus parried away a wide-angle but close-range Chattanooga shot, with the rebound being shot off the post. Ten minutes later, a through ball sprung Will Roberts in on goal, but Kraus met the challenge. And just before the halftime whistle, Kraus somehow got his body in front of a cross a split second before a waiting Chattanooga player.
Reading did manage to get in a jab in the first half, with a point-blank header forcing a double-save out of Chattanooga keeper Tom Halsall in the 34th minute.
The chances continued into the second half, with Chattanooga continuing to enjoy the lot of them. Off a long throw in the 49th minute, Roberts nudged a header just wide of the Reading post. The continuous pressure and possession continued until it started to let up around the 60th minute. Reading had held against the storm, and looked to create a few chances on their own.
The 64th minute introduction of Zeca Ferraz looked to stopper Reading’s momentum, providing a new, exciting element to the game. Indeed, he nearly stole a goal by himself in the 67th minute, after dispossessing a Reading defender and nearly out-scrapping Kraus. Seven minutes later, Chattanooga got its best chance of the game when a free kick from just outside the box was rocketed past Kraus off the post.
It was Halsall’s turn to spring to action in the 81st minute when Danny Reynolds blundered a clearance, allowing a Reading attacker space in the box. But Halsall quickly closed the angle and the shot rolled to safety. Halsall again answered the call three minutes later in the 84th, before Ferraz put a spectacular and acrobatic effort just over the bar in the 85th. The back-and-forth continued, as a Reading attacker, in the 86th minute curled one that just missed the upper corner.
Alas, the final whistle blew and the desperation to avoid extra time, on both sides, was for naught.
The 30 minutes of extra time were as sleepy as the 90 minutes of regulation were exciting. Few chances emerged either side, with most coming in the form of floating crosses easily snatched by the in-form keepers. Penalties were destined and they came.
Throughout much of the 120 minutes, Chattanooga were the better side. The difference, either through skill or karma, finally bore out in the penalties. Chattanooga’s Kieran Bywater hammered the first penalty perfectly into the corner. Reading’s Nestor Aguilar took a staggered run-up to his first penalty and shanked it, leaving CFC up. Chattanooga could do no wrong, leaving Kraus with no chance as Ferraz and Reynolds coolly converted and Halsall made an awesome stop on Brad Fountain. John Carrier, with the first kick of the fourth round, ended the match with another perfect strike to the top corner.