GPS Omens came into Wednesday night’s Third Round US Open Cup match in Rochester as the clear underdogs but proved over the course of 120 minutes that they deserve respect on merit, despite losing 2-1 to the Rochester Rhinos.
Rhinos started the match lively, with a lot of pressure early but the hosts failed to capitalize. Unfortunately for Rochester, that pattern would characterize much of the game. The home side had more of the ball, executed deliberate build-up play, and got far more shots off than their amateur opponents, but could only manage a deflected goal through the first 119 minutes of the match.
In the first half, Rochester held an impressive 77 percent of possession but could not manage a single shot on goal. Neither goalkeeper made a save through the first 45 minutes but the second half sparked the contest into life.
Rochester’s Jalen Brown saw a heavy shot from the edge of the penalty area flash across the goalmouth in the 51st minute but showed he brought his shooting boots out at halftime. Just a minute later Brown picked up an innocuous partially cleared ball in midfield, cut inside on his favored right foot, and shot from 19 yards. The shot took a deflection off a GPS Omens defender before finding the back of the net but gave Rochester the lead in the 52nd minute.
Before the match could settle into a rhythm again, GPS earned a free kick for a foul off the ball as Rochester cleared its lines. Keith Caldwell, older brother of New England Revolution midfielder Scott, lined up the free kick in the 55th minute and fired past Dan Lynd to equalize the game.
GPS Omens went to the bench first, in the 60th and 65th minutes, before Rochester also made two like-for-like changes in the 73rd minute. Omens used their last substitution in the 80th minute and prepared to hold out for a 1-1 draw.
The Rhinos pushed every field player into GPS Omens’ half of the field during extra time, looking to break the deadlock before the 120 minutes wound up. Rochester had mustered 10 total shots through 90 minutes but had 11 shots in extra time alone. Brown and substitutes forward Samuel Edoung-Biyo peppered the GPS Omens’ net in both periods of extra time before the inevitable game-winner.
As fans in Capelli Sport Stadium began to resign themselves to a penalty shootout, Brown and Edoung-Biyo combined for the last-minute go-ahead goal. Brown controlled a long ball over the top from his defense before drilling service into the area. Edoung-Biyo battled to beat the GPS Omens center back to the ball and redirected the cross into the net from six yards out.
In heart-breaking fashion, GPS Omens conceded in stoppage time of the second half of extra time, perhaps seconds away from a shootout.
Elated to have grabbed his first goal for the team, Samuel Edoung-Biyo spoke after the game about his work crashing the net on angled service from wide positions.
“Throughout the game, they kept putting good crosses in and I kept going behind the man. Coach just kept telling me eventually to slash in front of the defender so you can get in front of the ball, because they kept intercepting,” the first-year Rhinos forward said.
“And that one, I just kind of changed my run from the back post to the first post and got to the ball before he did.” Edoung-Biyo, who joined the squad from an open tryout, also talked about the mixture of frustration and relief the team felt and how he dealt with the setbacks late on.
“As a striker, you want to finish the opportunities you get. And I guess, it kind of just speaks to resilience. I had three good opportunities that I should have finished. I just kept working and kept looking for it and eventually I got it in the back of the net.”
Meanwhile, Rochester’s rookie winger Jalen Brown was electric for the home side. Brown made a similarly good impression in Rochester’s second-round match and assisted the team’s second goal against FC Motown. Speaking to media after the game, the former Xavier product laid out his team’s plan late on.
“The gameplan was just to put balls in dangerous areas,” Brown said. “We were trying to go for the game. We didn’t want to go to PKs. The best thing to do is to get the ball in the box, and that’s what we did.”
“I think we took the game and put it in our own hands,” Brown said.
Aside from the daunting challenge of defeating the Rhinos at Capelli Sport Stadium, something that no team has accomplished since the Richmond Kickers beat Rochester on August 3, 2016, GPS Omens faced added fitness concerns and travel issues.
GPS Omens midfielder Gregory Zuboff contrasted his team with other amateur sides who use the cup as a showcase to earn professional contracts but assured his teammates’ dedication.
“Relative to that, we approach the game in a little bit more of a laid back fashion but we’re still very committed. We love our training sessions during the week and guys are excited to show up on Saturday mornings to play in our league matches.”
“Certainly, our guys that were out here are trying to make a living for ourselves [outside of soccer] and this is something that we do more for passion. But we love the game and games like this are the most fun.”
“We knew they were going to be quite talented,” Zuboff said about the Rhinos. “They’ve done well in the cup in the past. They had a good run last year and had a strong defeat over a fellow Boston team, Southie. We knew we were going to have to play strong defense, to try and hold them to one or no goals and try to slot one in, early, ideally.”
“We found ourselves in a tight spot, getting down 1-0. But we had a great response from Keith [Caldwell]. He had a brilliant finish,” Zuboff smiled.
The player noted the rugged conditions for the visiting side.
“We took a seven-hour bus ride up here today,” the midfielder said. “We got in at 4:30, dropped our things off, turned around and came here to the field. We were just trying to get our legs under us.” Zuboff described how the travel and novelty of the experience may have affected fitness levels as time wore on.
“We were definitely feeling it, trying to manage those subs, especially when we saw overtime coming. There were some strategic substitutions that we had to pull.”
“Right now it feels like a defeat but looking back it’s been an exciting run for us. We’ve gotten some fun attention out of it. But most importantly the boys have been excited, we’ve been doing some extra training sessions, trying to stay fit, keep getting touches on the ball.”
“Looking back, it’s something we’ll talk about for a while but next year we’ll be looking to do the same thing and take it to the next round.”
While GPS Omens returns to Bay State Soccer League play where they are undefeated reigning champions and contemplate a potential 2018 cup run, the Rochester Rhinos move on to the fourth round of the Open Cup.
The Rhinos will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, to face the New England Revolution on June 14 at 7 p.m. EST. It will be the seventh all-time meeting between the two clubs in the tournament.