Pierre Omanga scored two goals – once in the opening 45 seconds and again on a penalty kick in the closing minutes — to lead GPS Portland Phoenix to a 2-0 victory over Mass Premier Soccer (MPS) in a U.S. Open Cup First Round match Tuesday night.
The Phoenix, which plays in the fourth-tier Premier Development League, advances to a Second Round match on May 21st at the Rochester Rhinos, which plays in the third-tier U.S.L. Pro Division.
This was Portland’s second straight year of qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup. In 2012, Phoenix fell 3-2 to the Brooklyn Italians of the National Professional Soccer League in an opening round game played in a driving rain at Memorial.
Adam Perron made eight saves for the Phoenix. Jeff Newman made five saves for MPS, an amateur team that plays in Region I of the USASA.
Portland took a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds in. Right midfielder Emmanuel Appiah’s free kick from 25 yards found Pierre Omanga at the back post for a header into the bottom corner.
“We set out to be a lot more direct, get out ahead nice and early,” said GPS Phoenix manager Ally Bain. “We did that the first five minutes and then we stopped doing it. We stopped the passing that gave us success in the early part of the game, broke down and we really struggled. I was impressed with MPS. They passed the ball well. But it was good to drag it out there in the end.”
MPS was undeterred by the early deficit.
“We hadn’t even started to play yet,” MPS midfielder/manager Nick Christman said. “I thought our response the next 15 minutes of the game was good. We settled down and made it clear it was going to be more of a battle.”
MPS held a 6-3 edge in corners, and outshot the Phoenix, 16-10.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way we played,” Christman said. “I thought we created as many chances as they did. They had a couple nice finishes and we couldn’t quite get one across the line. For a men’s league team, the guys got off work, came up and gave it a valiant effort.”
When MPS threatened in the half, it came from the right side, as midfielder Matt Lemire and forward Tyler Macnee proved a handful. Play went back and forth early, but by the 18th minute, MPS was controlling the midfield and sending in long-range bids.
Phoenix began pressing about nine minutes later, as evident by Clement Bompart’s hard tackle on Tyler Macnee in the 27th minute, which drew the first yellow card of the game.
Defender Roy Sandeman’s tackle on Appiah drew a yellow card for MPS with about two minutes left in the half. Appiah nearly made it 2-0 on the ensuing free kick, but a diving save by Newman kept the score at 1-0 heading into intermission.
With a precarious 1-0 lead and a motivated opponent, things looked bleak for Portland when Richardo Israel was sent off in the 71st minute for a hard tackle on Christman.
MPS pressed the 10-man Phoenix hard, forcing defender Jonathan Lupinelli to prevent an equalizer during a scramble off an MPS corner in the 76th, heading away a sure goal.
MPS keeper Newman stoned Omanga and Nick Weightman on a a shot and a rebound on a break in with four minutes to play. Thirty seconds later, Lemire nearly tied it again with a low shot that ran wide of the right post.
Portland finally iced it when Omanga was taken down near the end line in the 89th minute. His low shot on the penalty kick beat Newman and pushed Portland on to a 2-0 victory.
“Omanga gives us everything going forward,” Bain said. “He’s got energy and pace. He’s the real deal.”
The Phoenix opened their PDL season on Saturday night with a dramatic 5-4 win over the Vermont Voltage. Phoenix trailed 3-1 at halftime and 4-3 in the final minutes before scoring twice to pull out a victory. Tuesday night showed a significant step forward.
“Overall (Tuesday) was a far better defensive display,” Bain said. “We really wanted to lock it down and play better in the back, and we did that.”
Mass Premier Soccer, which competes in Bay State Soccer League in USASA Region I, was making its first appearance in the Open Cup. MPS defeated Newtown Pride FC of Connecticut 6-0 in the USASA regional semifinals to become just the third Massachusetts-based USASA club to qualify for the tournament in the modern era.
“We’re proud to get this far,” Christman said. “We wanted to give it a roll and see how we could do against a team that trains every day.”
Now, for Portland, it’s on to Rochester, one of the most historic clubs in the country.
“A lot of the boys have aspirations to play professional soccer,” Bain said. “So for them to get a taste of playing against that next level is going to be a great experience for them. It’s also fantastic for the club to get that national exposure as one of the PDL sides progressing to the next round.”