Christos FC pose for a team photo after their 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match against Phoenix SC. Photo: Christos FC
Christos FC wore down their open division-qualifying visitors Phoenix SC on a sunny but windy day in Arnold, MD, taking the game 5-1 in front of approximately 50 fans. The hosts move on to the full Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the second year in a row, while Phoenix SC will try again next year to qualify, having last qualified in 2011.
Christos keeper Phil Saunders didn’t have much work during on the field, but in a pre-game interview he laid out his team’s challenges and strategies to a T. “Teams know our name and want to beat us, so we have to be extra good.” Still, he added, “our depth is unbelievable.”
It turns out that Christos were extra good on the day, and it was their depth that made the difference in defeating the storied Pennsylvania club.
Possession was relatively balanced at the start of the game, with both sides trading chances. Christos had the edge in chances created, but Phoenix left wing Dan Murtagh shaped a beautiful shot towards Saunders’s back post in the fifth minute, only to see it glance off the upper right corner of the goal.
Tyler Rudy put Christos on the board first with a beautiful 25-yard freekick that cleared the Phoenix wall before settling into the lower corner of Pratico’s goal in the 32nd minute. Christos kept the pressure on and found the goal again in the 38th minute when a cross by Cody Albrecht from the right found Daniel Baxter about 10 yards in front of goal. Baxter calmly settled the ball before shooting under Practico for the second goal.
Phoenix SC came out with renewed determination in the second half, but they weren’t able to conjure the kind of solid chances they’d seen at the beginning of the first half.
As Saunders predicted, the depth of the Christos side made the difference when Elton Joe subbed on for Caringi in the 69th minute, soon to be joined by Levi Houapeu and Christopher Panian. The pace of Joe and Houapeu caused Phoenix particular problems, but it was Joe’s blistering shot that drew blood in the 74th minute as he turned just inside the 18-yard box and rifled the ball into the upper right corner of the Phoenix goal. “Panian played it one time to me, and I just hit far post as hard as I could. It went there, exactly where I wanted it to,” Joe said after the game. Daniel Baxter pounced on a deflection off his own shot in the 78th minute to extend the Christos lead to four.
At that point, Phoenix SC started to lose control, registering yellow cards in the 78th (Joseph Brocker), 79th (Shane Kronick), and 80th minutes (Jamen Rowen) as they tried to halt the Christos attack.
Elton Joe was having none of it as he found himself behind the defense on a break in the 86th minute and settled the ball in the left corner after Pratico had saved a similar break by Joe in the 84th.
Ben Castor of the Phoenix registered a consolation goal in the 88th minute to ruin the Christos shutout.
After the game, Joe echoed Saunders on the strategy of bringing Joe off the bench: “The message from the coach coming off the bench was to come on the pitch and take over – or at least to close the game out.” Joe was confident about the prospects for Christos in 2018, having marched to the 4th round in the 2017 tourney before dropping a heartbreaking decision to DC United by a deceiving 4-1 scoreline. “We’re trying to come this year very strong. We’re definitely going to go farther than we went last year. That’s the plan.”