Chattanooga FC is moving on to play the Wilmington Hammerheads in the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, largely due to the Round 1 heroics of goalkeeper Gregory Hartley, who has been voted TheCup.us Player of the Round.
The award is voted on by TheCup.us staff and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters.
The 25-year-old Manchester, England native saved two spot kicks, and scored the match-winner in the penalty shootout to give Chattanooga a 4-2 win over the Ocala Stampede after playing to a 1-1 draw in the prior 120 minutes.
Goalkeepers taking penalty kicks is relatively rare in Open Cup play, although it happened twice last year. Dan Kennedy of Chivas USA had an attempt in the 2014 Fourth Round against the Carolina RailHawks, but his shot was saved. In the previous round, Orlando City U23s upset the Charleston Battery (USL) 12-11 in PKS, the longest penalty kick shootout in the Modern Era (1995-present). Both goalkeepers, Thomas Gomez (Orlando) and Eric Shannon (Charleston) converted their attempts.
Hartley says he isn’t the best penalty kick taker on the team, but he’s good enough to make the top five.
“Coach (Bill Elliott) has the confidence in me to put the ball in the net,” said Hartley. “However it wasn’t one of the best I’ve ever taken.”
The important thing was that the shot went in. He struck it hard to the goalkeeper’s right as he dove to his left. (SEE VIDEO BELOW)
It was a challenging game, considering Hartley’s club had very little time together before the tournament began. They kicked off the 2015 NPSL season with a 6-0 win over the Georgia Revolution on Saturday, May 9 before their Open Cup debut four days later. Hartley said the season opening win gave them confidence going into their Open Cup match against Ocala.
“This year we have a fairly new squad with about only six returners so we have all had to adjust to new players and their styles,” said Hartley. “I feel like we played well in parts in the first half but not as good as we would hope. However after our talk at the half we knew what we needed to do. We came out as took the game to them.”
The fourth-year goalkeeper will now look to lead Chattanooga FC to the Third Round, which would tie their best ever performance in the tournament, set in 2014 when they also finished as NPSL national runners-up.
In two other Open Cup berths, Chattanooga failed to register a win.
Hartley narrowly edged out Joe Holland from the Long Island Rough Riders, who had two goals and an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Brooklyn Italians. Also receiving strong consideration were Michael Salazar of PSA Elite, Quinn McAnaney of Lansing United and Joe Masumiya of Kitsap Pumas.
Hartley also becomes just the second England native in the Modern Era (1995-present) to win TheCup.us Player of the Round. The other winner from his home country was his teammate, Luke Winter for his performance in leading Chattanooga to its upset win over the Wilmington Hammerheads. It was the first time that an NPSL club had defeated a pro club in the tournament.
2015 TheCup.us Player of the Round winners
Preliminary Round: Kyle Luetkehans – Harpo’s FC (USSSA)
First Round: Gregory Hartley – Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
Highlights: Final two penalty kicks (Chattanooga vs. Ocala)
Full game highlights: Chattanooga vs. Ocala