Harpo’s FC (USSSA) defeated the BYU Cougars (PDL) 4-2 from the penalty spot after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer on the BYU campus. The result continues Harpo’s dream run into the second round when they return to the Centennial state to face Switchbacks FC (USL) at Sand Creek Stadium in Colorado Springs on May 20.
Both teams enjoyed large periods of possession and accurate passing on South Field, but with few quality attempts on net. From the beginning of the match, the older, more experienced Harpo’s squad successfully maintained an organized defense. As the game continued, the college-aged BYU attackers got closer and closer to breaking down the visitors with exceptional attacks from Pedro Vasconcelos, Jacob Ence, and Dallin Cutler.
“The hardest part was the guys were exhausted,” said Harpo’s manager Johnny Freeston. “We made our subs early so we could finish off the game in regulation, but that didn’t work. It was a big gamble, but my players dug deep to give everything they had.”
Harpo’s defenders Jose Matibag, Kevin Haber, Sawyer Frank, and goalkeeper Zac Gibbens stayed organized to keep BYU off the scoreboard during relentless attacks.
According to BYU head coach Chris Watkins, “It’s disappointing to lose a game like this. We gave them a little too much early in the game because we came out unsure of ourselves. Hat’s off to them. They were playing for overtime for the last hour or so. They parked the bus.”
Watkins redirected his young players during the break.
“We came out at halftime wanting to push the ball more,” Watkins said. “As they got more tired, we pushed more. The plan was working, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
In the closing seconds of regulation, a long clearance found Vasconcelos in the BYU attack with one defender to beat before firing a potential game-winner. As he cocked his leg to shoot, Matibag cut him down with a clutch, yet controversial tackle outside of the penalty area.
During the extra 30 minutes, BYU attacked in waves with occasional counterattacks from Harpo’s. Both keepers — Gibbens for Harpo’s and Jake Peterson for BYU — had their moments preserving the shutouts and forcing the game to spot kicks.
Cutler shot first for BYU, placing the ball past Gibbens to give the Cougars the lead. Justin Geibel leveled the score for Harpo’s with a clean shot to Peterson’s right. Vasconcelos took BYU’s second shot, but Gibbens made the save and gave the visitors momentum.
Ben Iiames scored the second Harpo’s shot. Matt Rider followed for BYU and sent his attempt wide left. Corey Cullen stretched the score to 3-1 for Harpo’s, yet Ethan Meyer scored to keep the Cougars in the hunt at 3-2. But Sawyer Frank tucked away his shot to seal the game and send Harpo’s to their second-round match in Colorado Springs.
For Freeston, reaching the second round was an ambitious goal that the team clarified before the tournament. Freeston’s squad is familiar with the Switchbacks roster, most notably Switchbacks veteran captain Luke Vercollone, who trained with Freeston’s Avery Brewing FC over the winter. Most of all, Harpo’s players like Gibbons, Matibag, and striker Shane Wheeler are eager to continue their Cup run and hope to gain notoriety by proving their abilities above the amateur level. The determined Harpo’s squad believes they can play at a professional level, and USL exposure is what they were hoping for in this tournament.
After the game, the easy-going group from Boulder shared cans of Avery India Pale Ale and Ellie’s Brown Ale that they hauled for the road trip. Looking ahead?
“We envision beers, ice baths, rest, and unfortunately some of us have to go to work,” Freeston said. “People will rest up and take care of themselves. We’ll train accordingly. We’ll prep like we did for this, and we’ll be ready for Wednesday and give it our best.”
Patrick Shea of the website Current of Colorado also contributed to this report, along with producing the video below.