North Texas Rayados pose for a team photo before a 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match against Motagua of New Orleans. Photo: NTX Rayados
The North Texas Rayados scored twice in the final ten minutes to earn a 2-1 comeback victory over CD Motagua New Orleans and clinch a spot in the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Midfielder Christian Okeke, making his first-ever appearance in an Open Cup qualifier, scored the decisive goal in the 85th minute. With the win, Rayados have qualified for a Modern Era (1995-present) record seventh consecutive US Open Cup run.
North Texas has qualified for every US Open Cup since 2012, and no open division amateur club has a longer streak. Reading United of the Premier Development League holds the Modern Era record with nine consecutive Open Cup berths, which remains an active record.
The weather at kickoff was unseasonably chilly (for north Texas) with winds well over 20 miles per hour, making it especially difficult to play the ball through the air. Fortunately for both teams, the game plan involved keeping the ball on the ground.
The two sides took turns controlling possession and creating chances. Rayados failed to convert on two shots on goal in the first 15 minutes; one was saved point blank and the other struck the post. New Orleans took advantage of Rayados’ poor finishing and came up with the game’s first goal in the 27th minute. Steven Morris played Carson Gorecki through into the box and Gorecki finished the shot near post to put the visitors up 1-0.
The second half offered more of the same. Both sides continued to get into the final third and create chances but both failed to convert their respective opportunities. In the 67th minute, NTX had a golden opportunity in front of the net but the shot was shanked well over the goal.
It looked as though Rayados would be missing their first Open Cup since 2012, but the team showed their resolve and proved why they have appeared in the US Open Cup opening round schedule every year since 2012.
In the 82nd minute, a low cross was driven into the box where the keeper bobbled it until it deflected off one of his own defenders and then subsequently skipped off a Rayados attacker. Minutes later, Okeke found himself in the box and did his best Michael Jordan impression, shaking off his defender and firing past the keeper for the eventual game winner.
“It was nice. I know we missed a lot of chances in the game but it was nice.”, said Okeke.
Okeke is a testament to the quality of the program NTX Rayados has put together over the past seven years. With four regular players missing due to scheduling conflicts, Okeke stepped in and when his opportunity came, he comfortably converted the shot. While the weather may have scared a lot of fans away, those who were in attendance were treated to a very exciting, evenly-matched game of soccer.
“My heart is still pumping. It was a good game, but it was one of those you don’t want to happen to you.”, said North Texas head coach Tito Salas. He also admitted the weather got to some his players at some point during the game. “It’s hard to play when it’s cold … it’s not the same.”
Despite failing to convert any of their early chances, Rayados ultimately pulled out the win over a team they’ve now beaten twice in as many qualifying campaigns. They’ll be glad to have their full team back in the spring and will be feeling confident about their chances of advancing.
“Oh I think we can go pretty far. We’ll see though,” said Okeke.