The Baltimore Bohemians of the Premier Development League made their Lamar Hunt US Open Cup debut on Wednesday night against a team who made a splash in their tournament debut a year ago in Icon FC. The USASA club from Montville, New Jersey won their first game last year 4-1 over the Brooklyn Italians (NPSL) on the strength of a hat trick from Argjent Duka and former MLS veteran Danny Szetela.
However, this year’s Icon FC roster was missing Duka and Szetela, and the Bohemians, who finished tied for second in the very competitive Mid-Atlantic Division last year, was the better team in front of their home fans. Baltimore, led by newly-appointed head coach Santino Quaranta, overwhelmed their Garden State opponents, winning 4-1 to earn a home game in Round 3 against the Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Pro).
The University of Maryland Baltimore County Stadium was the venue with an overcast day with a very fine mist in the air at kickoff. The crowd was sparse at first, but thickened as the game heated up. Both teams were playing with relatively new lineups, but Icon appeared to have an advantage entering the match as they had been in action for months in the Garden State Soccer League, while this was the first competitive match for the Bohs in 2014.
For the first 10 minutes or so, the Bohs laid back, absorbing pressure from Icon FC. Chris Panian of Baltimore announced the breakout of his team with a booming shot from the top of the box at 11 minutes, but it rocketed wide right without troubling Icon’s keeper Chris Duggan. After a brief pause in the 15th minute when Ricky Greensfelder of the Bohs was subbed out for Malcolm Harris after suffering concussion-like symptoms, play was restarted with more trouble for Duggan. A penalty was awarded to the Bohs after Icon’s defense sent a Baltimore player down in the box, and Mamadou Kansaye coolly sent the ball to the lower right corner of the goal while Duggan plunged in the opposite direction.
The Bohemians pushed their advantage, pressuring the Icon defense with a break on the right wing. After Icon had recovered the ball, Chris Panian continued to harass the defense, coaxing a turnover out of Gabriel Alvas. Panian turned and slipped a pass into the path of Austin Martz, who nonchalantly controlled the ball and slotted the ball inside the far post past the arcing body of Duggan.
At this point, the game began to get physical, but the referee showed some tolerance until the 42nd minute, when Jarrod Laventure’s lunging studs-up tackle resulted in an ejection. The teams went into the locker rooms for halftime knowing that Icon was down a man for the rest of the game and trailing 2-0.
After the whistle blew to open the second half, Icon pressed the Baltimore defense, forcing a foul and a goal in quick succession. The goal came when Icon’s Adam Bajek sent an outswinging cross through the Bohs defense, finding an unmarked Teddy Niziolet, who pounded the ball in with his head from 5 yards out.
The Bohs began finding more room in the midfield at that point, as gaps began to form in Icon’s original 4-3-2-1 formation. The Bohs forwards started to push the defensive line of the Jersey team while the fullbacks and outside mids, feeling less pressure, sent more balls over the top to big forwards Brandon Allen and halftime addition David Neuberth.
In the 62nd, the Bohs converted a midfield turnover by Icon into a goal, finding Allen just outside the top of the box. Having lost his man, Allen pounded a volley across the goal into the lower right corner for the score.
The game got chippy again after the 75th minute, but Baltimore managed to ice the match after they sprung Graham, who subbed on for right back Stephen Ho in the 84th minute. Graham accelerated and drove a low shot to the keeper’s right, completing the scorign for the home team.
The Bohs had further chances, including an opportunity for Neuberth in the 74th minute and two excellent efforts by Allen in the 75th, including a ball that pinged off the left post and straight back to Duggan, who caught it with Allen standing one yard away, ready to pounce. Icon pushed toward the end but didn’t have the manpower to change the score of the game, which ended 4-1 in favor of the Bohemians.
Bohemians’ new coach Quaranta was upbeat about his team’s performance.
“I was thrilled with the effort,” said Quaranta, who won a US Open Cup title with DC United in 2008. “Some of the guys met each other for the first time tonight, so the challenge for us is to put the best group on [the field] shapewise and tactically. Brandon Allen, for example, is one of the guys… But we’re thrilled. Obviously we have a lot of work to do. But overall the effort, the commitment from the players was fantastic.”
Quaranta cited fitness as the biggest challenge his team faces as they move on in the tournament.
“Physically, it’s new for the guys, when you play 90 minutes games with three changes coming from college. So physically you want to make sure you’re managing their minutes, as we play again Saturday, Tuesday, then Saturday again.”
He also emphasized his desire to play an attacking style of soccer, not just for the fans, but for the players as well.
“Overall, you want these guys to play free, you want them to have a chance to get their names out there,” he said, noting that Baltimore is expecting some new arrivals who could make an impact in the pro ranks.
Quaranta did shy away from picking a man of the match. “I think Austin Martz was fantastic. His workrate was second to none. Andrew Harris had a great game. Brandon Allen was great. He could have scored 3 or 4 goals. But I don’t think you can pinpoint one guy.”
In the next round, Baltimore will look to get another team effort as they will aim for an upset against a team that has made their name for upsetting teams in the Open Cup in the Harrisburg City Islanders.
HIGHLIGHT: GOAL BY BALTIMORE’S BRANDON ALLEN