It may have taken 131 minutes of soccer including stoppage time and an eight-round penalty kick shootout but the third time was still the history-making charm for the Houston Dynamo as they advanced to the 2018 US Open Cup Final. The Dynamo made history in front of the home crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium turning a 3-3 draw into a dramatic 7-6 shootout win over Los Angeles FC and continuing the quest for the team’s first US Open Cup title.
The victory marked the first time Houston has advanced to the Final in three tries. The Dynamo had reached the Semifinals in 2006 and 2009 and now, in 2018, winning the tournament is an important goal for the team.
“I am proud of this team,” said a relieved and happy Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “This team has never given up. Despite we were ahead, they tied.”
Memo Rodriguez came off the bench to give Houston a 3-1 lead in the 75th minute, but Diego Rossi pulled one back for LAFC three minutes later, and then scored his third goal of the game deep into second half stoppage time to level the match at 3-3. Rossi became the first player in the Modern Era (1995-present) to score a hat trick after the Quarterfinals. But Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis made a pair of saves in the shootout to make the Dynamo just the second South Texas team in tournament history to reach the championship game (El Paso Patriots in 1995).
LAFC forward Diego Rossi slipped in behind the defense before slotting a ball between the legs of an on-charging Willis in the sixth minute of play.
The Houston Dynamo celebrate after defeated LAFC in a PK shootout in the 2018 US Open Cup Semifinals. Photo: Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo, who are 23-7-7 at home under Cabrera over the last two seasons, showcased their resiliency and tenacity mere moments after the Black and Gold claimed the lead. Andrew Wenger leveled the match in the 12th minute as an Adam Lundqvuist corner kick found the Dynamo midfielder all alone at the back post for the easy tap-in.
Thirteen minutes after the equalizer, Mauro Manotas scored his fourth goal of the tournament to give Houston a 2-1 lead that they would take into the halftime break. His four goals is tied for second-most in the 2018 US Open Cup. For Manotas, it was his eighth career Open Cup goal in nine appearances, which is, by far, the most of any Dynamo player. No Houston player in team history has scored more than three goals in the competition.
Tomas Martinez played a ball to Rodriguez on the left wing and the homegrown player found just enough space to fire a low-driving shot toward the near post that narrowly beat LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller. It was the third goal of the tournament for Rodriguez and the fourth of his career.
“It’s an incredible feeling to get a goal in front of the hometown crowd,” said Rodriguez about his goal that gave Houston a two-goal lead with 15 minutes left in regulation. “You always have to be ready when you come on the pitch to make an impact for the team.”
Joe Willis of the Houston Dynamo makes one of his two saves in the PK shootout against LAFC in the 2018 US Open Cup Semifinals. The Dynamo won the shootout 7-6 after a 3-3 draw. Photo: Houston Dynamo
Trailing 3-1, LAFC, the upstart expansion team in Major League Soccer, went to work. Rossi punched home a bouncing ball inside the box in the 78th minute to cut the deficit to one. Then he completed his historic hat trick five minutes into stoppage time when a free kick from the right wing caused problems for Willis. The netminder tried to punch the ball away which allowed Rossi on the right side of the box to head the ball back toward goal and inside the far post.
For Rossi, he became the first Uruguayan to score a hat trick in the Modern Era and he finished the game with five Open Cup goals, which ties him with David Ochoa of Miami United FC (NPSL) for the tournament lead. The last hat trick scored in the Semifinals came in 1993 when Jose Angulo of CD Mexico (now El Farolito) scored three in a 3-1 extra time win over Bavarian SC.
Neither side could find the game winner in extra time which meant a semifinal match had to be decided by a penalty kick shootout for just the 10th time in the tournament’s 105-year history.
LAFC appeared to have the game in hand after Tyler Miller blocked Boniek Garcia, Houston’s fourth shooter but Joe Willis, no stranger to penalty kick shootouts, came through again. Willis was the goalkeeper for the 2013 US Open Cup winner D.C. United and posted a shootout win in the opening game against the Richmond Kickers.
Following the Garcia save, Willis saved Laurent Ciman’s attempt in Round 5, and then stopped Latif Blessing’s shot in the eighth round to send the Dynamo to the Final, which they will host on Sept. 26 against the Philadelphia Union.
“I wasn’t very happy with my game leading up to the penalties,” said Willis following the game. “So I was happy I could make a couple of saves and help the team advance to the final.”
Freelance sports journalist, broadcaster and author covering everything from high school to the pros throughout Houston and beyond. With insight into the soccer world gleaned from more than 50 years of experience as a player, coach, and referee, you can read his work at DynamoTheory.com