Saint Louis FC scored a pair of early goals and held off a charge from the giant-killing Michigan Bucks to earn a 2-1 road victory in the Third Round of the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
With the win, Saint Louis earns a home game against four-time US Open Cup champion Chicago Fire (MLS) in Round 4.
Both goals came off the foot of Sebastian Dalgaard on defensive miscues in the 13th and 16th minute. Coming out of the halftime break, it took 27 seconds for the Bucks to pull one back with a spectacular volley by University of Michigan star Francis Atuahene. The Saint Louis defense held strong to earn the club’s second straight road win to put themselves on the same field as an MLS team for the second time in three years.
In the opening 10 minutes, the Bucks, who upset their Modern Era record 10th pro teams last round against Indy Eleven (NPSL), did not look like an amateur team against their professional opposition. They held their own and created a few shots toward goal but neither threatened goalkeeper Devala Gorrick.
The Bucks have been known for their defense after back-to-back 1-0 shutouts in the opening two rounds, but it was two mistakes at the backline that led to a pair of Saint Louis goals.
In the 13th minute, Saint Louis collected the ball at midfield and with two quick passes the ball was in the back of the net. Mats Bjurman received the ball, turned and played a crisp pass into the path of Sebastian Dalgaard who entered the right side of the penalty area with plenty of space to shoot. He cut back inside to free himself up and fired a shot past Bucks goalkeeper Drew Shepherd.
Three minutes later, a Bucks defender attempted to head the ball from the top of the ‘D’ back to Shepherd who had come off his line. Unfortunately for the home team, the header didn’t have enough force on it and Dalgaard broke in and beat the defender and Shepherd to the ball and put the ball into the empty net. Saint Louis took control of the game as they peppered Shepherd’s goal with shots. Defender Ryan Howe’s attempt from distance in the 20th minute forced a diving save from Shepherd. Six minutes later, Denis Ahmetovic stole the ball from a Bucks defender and forced another tough save. But the defending PDL champions weren’t finished. In the 28th minute, Midfielder Tom Owens ripped a 25-yard shot that nearly beat the keeper but Gorrick made an acrobatic save to his right to preserve the clean sheet. Both teams created chances in the final 15 minutes of the half but the best chance came from Saint Louis in the 44th minute. A long ball was played up to Jose Angulo which drew attention from the Bucks backline. Shepherd came off his line to try to punch it away, but he failed as the bodies came together in the air. Angulo managed to recover the ball and find enough space to target the empty net, but in his best save of the night, Shepherd pulled off a kick save at the top of the box to keep the score at 2-0 heading into the break. At halftime, the Bucks honored their long-time trainer Tom Ford who was recently diagnosed with ALS (Donate to his GoFundMe page here). After the ceremony, the second half began with an early candidate for Goal of the Tournament. Shepherd punted the ball forward and after the ball took an artificial turf-aided bounce, it fell to Atuahene who turned and volleyed the ball out of the air past Gorrick to cut the lead in half 27 seconds into the second half. It was the second goal of the tournament for Atuahene, who scored the lone goal in the Bucks’ 1-0 win over Indy Eleven in Round 2.
The assist by Shepherd was just the 10th goalkeeper assist of the Modern Era (1995-present), and the second by a Bucks netminder. The last to do it was the first to do it. In the Second Round of the 2001 US Open Cup, current Oakland University men’s soccer head coach Eric Pogue, who coincidentally was in attendance to honor Tom Ford, assisted on Paul Snape’s goal in a 7-1 loss to the New England Revolution.
Two minutes later, Saint Louis responded by playing a dangerous ball into the box, but the Bucks defense cleared the ball off the line.
In the 67th minute, the Bucks poured on the pressure looking for an equalizer. A free kick was sent into the penalty area on the right side to defender Daniel Mukuna who pushed up into the attack. Mukuna found space to fire a shot that was punched away by Gorrick.
A minute later, a searching through ball was sent down the right wing and Atuahene surprised the Saint Louis goalkeeper by using his blazing speed to beat him to the ball. With Gorrick off his line, he held his ground and cut off the angle as much as he could and made the save. On the ensuing corner kick, Atuahene got his head to the cross but it harmlessly fell into the goalkeeper’s chest.
Michigan continued to press to the very end. The best chance in the final minutes was in the 88th minute when a free kick was taken near midfield. Second half sub Austin Ricci left his feet to attempt a diving header at the far post and it was just out of reach.