Cleveland had to defeat fellow National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side, GPS Maine, in Maine, to get there, and they outscored them 1-0. The long trip paid off. However, they had their home opener three days later and then had to travel down to St. Louis four days after that. It was quite the trek.
AFC Cleveland President, Terry Lawriw, said ahead of the match, “The US Open Cup is very special to us as this is our first year qualifying.”
AFC Cleveland is in their fifth year of existence, but despite making the playoffs three of those years, this was their first trip to the competition (they qualified in 2013 but declined the invite due to player availability). Being a USL side, Saint Louis FC automatically qualified for the second year in a row after ousting the Des Moines Menace (PDL) and Minnesota United FC (NASL) last year before falling to eventual champion Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.
The second round action this year opened up with many long balls being sent down to the final third by St. Louis, especially down the right side. Many crosses were made from there, but were either cleared out or shot off target. Goalkeeper Anthony Flowers distinguished himself in many of these thwarted attacks. AFC Cleveland was able to counter these long balls several times. A few dangerous runs were made with Antonio Manfut and Vinny Bell looking the most dangerous.
The first truly distinguishing play came in the 8th minute. Jamiel Hardware took a shot on goal that was deflected by a handball in the box by AFC Cleveland. James Musa lined up the penalty shot for St. Louis and it was saved by Flowers. Saint Louis was able to redeem themselves in the 21st minute when Kentaro Takada sent a thru ball into the box to assist Jamiel Hardware’s chip over the goalkeeper.
It was around this time that Cleveland decided to start bunkering up a little bit more and St. Louis was able to retain much of the possession for the rest of the game. St. Louis took many chances, but none of their shots reached pay dirt until the 76th minute. Jordan Roberts received a pass on a fast run from Seth Rudolph, both impact subs, where he was able to juke the defender on the left side with some fancy moves and send a perfectly angled shot into the bottom right corner of the goal. That concluded the scoring for the night.
St. Louis head coach Dale Schilly said the he was able to give some reserve players some valuable playing time against an amateur opponent.
“Some of them are wanting to prove that they deserve more time and more opportunity,” said Schilly. “It’s important that they take advantage of the opportunities when given them … and tonight was one of those opportunities.”
Saint Louis will have to use their depth more in the coming weeks as they look to continue their run in USL play and US Open Cup play. They look to repeat last year’s Third Round penalty kick win against Minnesota United FC June 14 while AFC Cleveland looks for a second invite to the Open Cup with a good start in NPSL competition. They are already 2-0 this season.