New Jersey’s Brick Lions FC overcame oppressive heat and an early two-goal deficit to defeat their Philadelphia-area hosts Vereinigung Erzgebirge 5-2 in the first round of 2017 US Open Cup qualifying tournament on Saturday.
Brick Lions earned the win in its first Open Cup qualifying appearance, but several members of the organization had been part of the process before. Manager Michael McCullion helped run the Jersey Shore Boca, which reached the second round of qualifying last year and qualified for the US Open Cup in 2012.
The temperature at kickoff was well over 90 degrees, but that paled in comparison to Vereinigung Erzgebirge’s (VE) start. Just 30 seconds in, Anthony Bafile found himself with the ball and curled a shot from the left side of the box into the bottom right corner of the goal.
After some wide open play and multiple chances for each team, the hosts scored again. This time the ball was played to William McGuiness, who scored past the Brick Lions keeper into the bottom left corner.
The visitors got one back less than ten minutes later. In the 33rd minute, Chris Katona put in a cross from the right. The VE keeper got a touch on it, but the ball went right to the Lions’ Kris Olsen-Barr, who calmly shot the ball into the net to cut the deficit in half.
The Garden State Soccer League members got another goal right before the half. A long ball was played to Thomas Gray, who sprinted roughly 25 yards before blasting the ball into the top right corner of the net, tying the game at two goals apiece.
“We were down but got a couple huge goals,” Brick Lions coach Costas Kaifas said. “After we got those goals, we were very confident. Our style is very open and attacking, so we weren’t afraid after going two goals down.”
Buoyed by a huge home crowd, VE, which was founded in 1931, came out strong in the second half. However, despite getting a slew of shots off, it would be the Brick Lions that would get on the board next. After VE cleared a corner kick in the 54th minute, a second cross went into the box. Chris Katona, who played for Stockton University, snuck his header in to give his team a 3-2 lead.
In the 64th minute, Gray got on the board again to give his team a 4-2 lead. Gray, who has played professionally for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, stepped up to take a free kick from 20 yards out. He hit a beautiful curling shot that gave the VE keeper no chance.
“They are a really good team,” said VE’s long-time coach Rob Oldfield. “They had a couple great goals. That free kick goal was just icing on the cake.”
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Olsen-Barr wanted a second goal as well. In the 72nd minute, coming in from the left side of the field, he slipped the ball past the keeper into the bottom right of the net to give his team a fifth straight goal.
With the win, Brick Lions FC will host a second round qualifying match October 15 or 16. The opponent will be either Rising Stars or Junior Lone Star, both of which play in the Philadelphia Premier Soccer League. VE is still looking to qualify for the Open Cup for the first time since 2002, when they lost to the South Jersey Barons (now Ocean City Nor’easters) in the opening round.