Phoenix SC opening goal – Murtagh free kickIn two very contrasting USASA Region I semifinal matches, the three-time US Open Cup champion New York Pancyprian Freedoms qualified for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the fifth time in the Pro Era with a dramatic 4-2 victory against Mass Premier Soccer while Phoenix SC of Philadelphia shutout Go Soccer FC 3-0 to advance to the tournament for the first time. Both clubs won on the road.
Mass Premier Soccer 2:4 New York Pancyprian Freedoms
It was a tale of two halves. Sometimes cliches are over-used, but there is no better way to describe the USASA Region I Semifinal match between Mass Premier Soccer and the visiting New York Pancyprian Freedoms Sunday afternoon as the New Yorkers rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit to win 4-2 and claim a berth to the 2011 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Meeting for the first time, the sides felt each other out for the first 20 minutes before strategies started too take shape. MPS would absorb a Pancyprian attack and look to pick off the small passes and quickly counter with speed.
The strategy worked as planned when the MPS defense stole a through ball and quickly advanced it through midfield in the 24th minute. One touch outside and Nick Tornaritis whipped in a deadly cross which found rumbling forward Dan Rudolph. Rudolph got his head to it, and the ball struck the post. However, his persistence paid off as he collected his own rebound and slotted it home for opening tally of the game.
New York tried to respond but they were settling for long range blasts that goalkeeper Nick Armington was handling well. MPS kept the ball in New York’s half for the majority of the play and the pressure paid off.
2011 New York Pancyprian Freedoms: Standing (Left to Right): Nick Katsanos, Chris Iordanou, Tasso Polydefkis, Mahamadu Simpara, Pete Halkidis, Matia Damiani, John Koutsounadis, Stefan Dimitrov, Peter Pavlakos, Jon Simos | Seating (Left to Right): Nick Christopher, Chris Zisimatos, Chad Calderone, Stelios Andreou, Jeff Matteo, Tommy Vlahos, Julio Cesar Dos Santos, Billy Antoniou
Nearing halftime, Matt Nolan made a cheeky run down the right flank and, after juggling the ball over a New York defender, he was brought down hard outside the box. The foul warranted a New York yellow card, but moments later the foul would prove more costly. From about 30 yards out, Matt Hoff let loose a rocket of a free kick that careened off a Freedoms defender and deflected into the net two minutes before the break, doubling the advantage.
Each club made two changes at the half, and from the get-go you could see it was going to be a different game. New York came out fired up clearly did not want to make a five-hour drive home without earning a berth in the US Open Cup. The Freedoms began to attack the flanks instead of trying go though the heart of the MPS defense, and it started to stretch MPS.
Their new game plan paid off quickly as they halved the MPS lead in the 48th minute. Attacking down the right flank the Freedoms had MPS on their heels and defenders out of position. A great cross from Anastasios Polydefkis found the foot of an onrushing Stefan Dimitrov who calmly finished off a great goal.
After the strike, you could almost feel the momentum shift and New York knew they were back in the game.
Less than five minutes later the Freedoms would strike again on a goal by Julio Cesar Dos Santos. The two-time USL Pro scoring champion and MVP received a through ball from Dimitrov, and after taking a great touch towards goal, he was able to beat the MPS keeper and even the game at the 53rd minute mark.
With the game back to par, MPS tried to regain its composure but the tide had shifted. With New York dominating possession and the MPS defenders constantly on their heels, it was only a matter of time.
Dimitrov scored New York’s go-ahead goal in the 71st minute. There was some debate as to whether Dimitrov was offside, but the assistant referee had a good view and kept the flag down. With MPS defenders caught off guard, Dimitrov collected a long range ball from Panagiotis Halkidis and was able to sneak through the flat MPS defensive line. One-on-one with the goalie, Dimitrov was composed and gave New York the 3-2 lead.
MPS had several chances to even it up, including a few chances on the opposition’s goal by Nick Christman and Dan MacGregor. But the New York defenders recovered well to cut down angles and break up the counter-attacks.
The last blow of the bout came in the 84th minute, and was again the result of flank play by the Freedoms led by John Koutsounadis and Dimitrov. Driving down the right side New York exposed the MPS backline and Dos Santos was able to get a slight touch on the Dimitrov cross, directing the ball inside the left post.
The strike sealed the club’s fifth trip to the US Open Cup in the professional era (1999, 02, 08, 10, 11) after having won the tournament three times in four years during the early eighties (1980, 82, 83).
“We are very excited,” said NYPF Manager Mike Iordanou. “We’re going to celebrate on the way back, but we have to get ready for the Cosmopolitan League playoffs next Wednesday, so we will be very busy leading into the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.”
Go Soccer FC 0:3 Phoenix SC
In the second match of the day, a free kick from Dan Murtagh four minutes before the break put things in motion for the visiting Phoenix SC from Philadelphia as the club used a penalty and own goal in the second half to secure a place in the US Open Cup. The free kick from 25 yards out was curled around the wall and into the upper corner.
Six minutes into the second half captain Bob Francis doubled the lead from the spot. The penalty was the result of Phoenix breaking down the right flank through Ryan Soroka for a cross in to Murtagh, whose effort was blocked by a handball.
Phoenix put the game well out of reach courtesy of Soroka again in the 70th. The club quickly moved up the left side through Greg Mangels to Soroka, who crossed the ball into the area. A defender, tracking back to deny another Murtagh chance made a play to intercept the cross, but sent it instead into the back of his own net.
“I think it’s great, great for the kids because they’ve worked so hard,” said head coach Blair Thomson after the match. “The players are very excited about being in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
“We have only had two losses since last August. We are hoping that we can take the next step. It’s quite exciting,” he said about where the team is and what it means for the players, including standout striker Frebole Kamara as well as a couple of younger players that came on late in the game.
“He’s as good a player as I’ve seen,” Thomson said of his Liberian forward that put in an hour of work on the day. “He went down to DC on a trial and didn’t get past the first day, and I couldn’t believe it. Now, I hope we play well in the tournament so that he has another opportunity to be seen and get another chance.”
Mass Premier Soccer 2:4 New York Pancyprian Freedoms
MPS: Dan Rudolph (Nick Tornaritis) 24
MPS: Matt Hoff 43
NY: Stefan Dimitrov (Anastasios Polydefkis) 48
NY: Julio Cesar Dos Santos (Stefan Dimitrov) 53
NY: Stefan Dimitrov (Panagiotis Halkidis) 71
NY: Julio Cesar Dos Santos (Stefan Dimitrov) 84
MPS Lineup: Dan Rudolph, Nick Tornaritis, Tommy Day, Matt Nolan, Matt Hoff, Derek Stenquist, Nick Armington, Matt Cross, John O’Reilly, Nick Chistman, Desmond Mitchell – Subs: Kevin Unger (17th minute), Dan MacGregor (Half Time) Chris Doran (Halftime)
New York Lineup: Chad Calderone, Stelios Andreou, Stefan Dimitrov, Nick Christopher, Matia Damiani, Julio Cesar Dos Santos, Jeff Matteo, Mahamadou Simpara, Peter Pavlakos, Anastasios Polydefkis, Chris Zisimatos – Subs: Billy Antoniou, Panagiotis Halkidis, John Koutsounadis, Athanasios Vlahos
Go Soccer FC 0:3 Phoenix SC
PHO: Dan Murtagh 41
PHO: Bob Francis penalty 51
PHO: GSFC own goal 70
Phoenix SC Lineup: Anthony Pratico; Bob Francis, Jack Pocorobba, Nick Pittaoulis, Greg Mangels; Dan Murtagh, Stephen Mellor (Kyle Soroka 70), Ben Castor, Ryan Soroka (Justin Dotzman 80); Scott Rowling, Frebole Kamara (Virgis Anusauskas 62)