Pittsburgh amateur club Tartan Devils Oak Avalon’s hopes for another Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run were dashed in a moment’s notice on Sunday at Rooney Field on the campus of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, as Rochester River Dogz’ Austin Gerber scored on a counter in the 89th minute, lifting the visitors from Western New York to a 2-1 qualifying round win.
“Pretty disappointing outcome,” Andy Kalas, Tartan Devils player/coach, said after the match. “I thought we had one there, right on the goal line, it was tough to swallow.”
The Tartan Devils appeared to be on the brink of getting the game-winner as handful of players from both sides converged the ball as it was laying in the goal box after a corner kick. Rochester’s keeper William Banahene made a save, and quickly punted the ball out of the goal area for Dominic Francis, who broke into open space to make a run across the field and into the box, where he laid off a ball to his right for Gerber.
Gerber’s clinical finish sealed the win for the River Dogz.
“It was a great counter,” said Rochester assistant coach Mark Mandel, who led the team alongside former Rochester Rhinos star Doug Miller. “We got a stop in goal, and on the counter-attack, we were able to put it in. It was a tough match for us, playing in the heat, so when you travel this far, it’s tough to get enough guys to train, and make the trip
In an evenly played match on a rare, late-September day with temperatures reaching the high 80s, both teams took turns exchanging chances, while the Tartan Devils controlled possession for long stretches, and appeared to be the stronger team heading into the end of the first half.
In the 43rd minute, Rochester took advantage of a corner kick opportunity for the game’s first goal.
Francis earned his first assist by sending a bending corner kick into the center of a very crowded box, with Anthony Rozzano winning the battle for the ball amidst the bedlam inside the six yard area, beating Tartan Devils’ goalkeeper Chad Varga for the go-ahead goal.
“Somehow, Anthony did a nice job to get to it in what was a scrum, and got it high enough past the keeper,” Mandel said. “We were getting outplayed to that point, so it was a big goal for us.”
The Tartan Devils continued to press forward into the second half.
On its fifth corner kick of the afternoon, one-time Pittsburgh Riverhounds midfielder and Marshall University/Keystone Oaks/Seton LaSalle standout, Anthony Virgara’s ball in to the near side area connected with David Braun (Thomas Jefferson/Robert Morris) to level the score at 1-1.
“They’re a sound team,” Mandel added about the Tartan Devils. “Obviously, they’re a bit older, and they’ve been doing it for years. They’re former D-I players, from Pitt, Robert Morris, Duquesne, and what not, and it was a good battle.”
As the game entered the later stages of the second half, both teams had some quality chances, but also, each were picking its spots to press forward.
“It looked like tired legs there on both sides,” Kalas acknowledged. “We were both knocking it around for a while, and we created a couple chances, but we couldn’t put another one away.”
Despite ending up on the losing end of the result, Kalas and his teammates cherish the chance to play in these Open Cup games, as the Tartan Devils continue to earn their way into the tournament, as they’ve remained a top-notch team in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League. Earlier this year, the Tartan Devils entered the Open Cup proper tournament, advancing to the second round after winning a penalty kick shootout against Derby City Rovers, before losing at home to Louisville City FC.
“It means one more opportunity to play another meaningful game,” Kalas, former Norwin standout who played at Pitt from 2007-2010. “A lot of us were competitive college players, and it gives us another chance for competitive opportunities. So, it’s a chance for that, and to play on behalf of Pittsburgh, and our local club.”
Rochester is the first Western New York amateur team to enter the new US Open Cup qualifying tournament that was launched in 2015. The last team from that region to enter qualifying was the Italian American Sport Club who fell one game short of qualifying for the 2014 US Open Cup. Prior to that, the last team to enter was Queen City FC (Buffalo, NY) in 2007.
The River Dogz, who compete in the Rochester District Soccer League, also have a senior team that competes in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), in US Soccer’s fourth division. The club recently re-branded as the Rochester Lancers. The Open Cup team struggled to field a full team as the River Dogz only dressed 13 players with one of them being a backup goalkeeper.
“Hopefully next rounds, we’ll get a home game, so we can get more guys to come out,” Mandel said. “But we’re pretty satisfied with the result today, it wasn’t easy, but it’s nice to come out on top. We’re looking forward to the next round.”
Tartan Devils Oak Avalon
Chad Varga (GK), Greg Annan, Daniel Braun, Ryan Brode, Derek Mackenzie (Matthew Fonagy 60′), Andy Kalas, Travis Mackenzie, Jesse Scheirer (Ryan Slaby, 73′), Tyler Vukoder (Tyler Solis, 60′)
Rochester River Dogz
William Banahene (GK), Mitchell Brickman, Michael Cunningham, Matthew D’Amico, Dominic Francis, Austin Gerber, Alexander Harling, Odah Kolodja, Omar Mohamed, (Zikret Osmic, 68′), Anthony Rozzano, Jacob Schindler