The Tartan Devils Oak Avalon have been a resilient amateur club — making an unprecedented run to reach the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup’s Second Round.
That run came to crashing halt on Wednesday night at Highmark Stadium, as the Pittsburgh-based team were outclassed by Louisville City FC, 9-0.
“People look at Open Cup, or FA Cup in England, and sometimes underestimate teams,” James O’Connor, Louisville City FC coach, said. “It was important that we showed them the respect that they deserved for getting to this point. And for our guys who needed to get important minutes, and show tremendous hunger to make a statement.”
Indeed, Louisville City may have bungled a few possessions early on when the Tartan Devils stayed back in an organized defensive shape, but by the eighth minute, they broke through for a goal that would set the tone for the rest of the game.
Ilija Ilic’s hard shot ricocheted off the post, at Tartan Devils keeper Zach Varga and in the back of the net.
“When you play a game like this, a little bit of unluckiness is not going to help you at all,” Varga said. “But they kept coming at us, and made it very difficult on us.”
From there, the visitors controlled a game which was mostly played in the LouCity attacking third. The underdog Devils, who knocked off the Derby City Rovers a week ago in a match that extended to penalties, really had a hard time trying to play the ball out of the defensive third.
Tartan Devils Oak Avalon conceded again in the 16th minute when Sean Totsch delivered a lengthy cross to Mark-Anthony Kaye, who out-jumped a Devils defender in good position to head in a goal.
Ballard scored his first professional goal in the 22nd and Ilic was later credited with his own in the 41st, sending LouCity into the locker room ahead 4-0 at halftime.
“That really wasn’t our best effort tonight. The moment was pretty big for our guys, but give all the credit to Louisville, they are a really great team,” Andy Kalas, Tartan Devils player/coach, said. “We didn’t know what to expect. They got up 1-0 early, then another, then another. It was tough to bounce back.”
With both teams using all three subs at halftime, LouCity were determined to keep filling the goal at Highmark Stadium, where they have a league match against USL foe Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a few days.
“That’s the biggest thing for us – guys that hadn’t got minutes – got them. And we performed professionally,” O’Connor added. “Now we’ve got a big game to prepare for here in a few days, so we’ll need to get some rest and train and hopefully get another win here in Pittsburgh.”
A hungry Louisville City FC squad, coming off its first league loss at Tampa Bay last week, would tack on five more second half goals, and could have reached double-digits if it weren’t for the efforts of Tartan Devils’ goalkeeper Varga, who faced more than 20 shots on goal.
“Last week, we beat a team (Derby City Rovers) that was technically sound, but they were younger, and small, and we were able to frustrate them,” Kalas added. “But playing a team on this level. They are so technically gifted, they have speed, size and quality — and they don’t let up.”
Varga, a former Duquesne University standout, played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2008-09, making 17 appearances, said that despite the loss, it was a special night for the Pittsburgh soccer community and for a club that only came together just three years earlier at Pipers Pub on Pittsburgh’s South Side.
“I really haven’t played in this kind of environment, and having a great group of fans here supporting us like this in a long time,” Varga said. “We started out as a small, little club, and look at where we’ve come. As heartbreaking as result may have been, we’re all happy to have had this opportunity and there’s a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces. We have a great group of guys and maybe this can be the beginning of more great things.
The final tally marked the most goals scored by Lou City in a single game, eclipsing the six racked up on Oklahoma City Energy FC in a June 27, 2015 game at Louisville Slugger Field. In fact, entering Wednesday’s contact, Louisville City had only scored a total of five goals in all five of their previous US Open Cup matches.
As a result, LouCity advanced to a Third Round matchup against FC Cincinnati, a 1-0 overtime winner Wednesday against AFC Cleveland, to be played May 31 at Nippert Stadium.
Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years, writing feature stories and providing game day coverage for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Sports Report, Kids Sports Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Riverhounds.com, USLPRO, DKSportsPittsburgh and more.