It was a balmy 48 agrees Fahrenheit in Broomfield Colorado, a high-tech community just outside the Denver skyline where CenturyLink and its 55 story building dominates the skyline. A 3 pm kickoff almost certainly guaranteed a frigid ending to this exciting tie that will go down as a classic Colorado US Open Cup match.
Colorado is proving to be fertile ground for amateur clubs attempting to qualify for the US Open Cup, and today’s match was no exception, as this tie was filled with passion and more than a little physicality. This was a rematch of an exciting 2-1 match from a year ago that saw Azteca FC earn a first-ever trip to the US Open Cup and denied Harpo’s FC of Boulder, Colo. a third straight trip to the tournament. This year’s rematch went the same way with Azteca winning 4-3
As the match opened, it was clear that this big pitch was going to make for wide open play. Both sides used the flanks to enhance their attacks, with Azteca making especially good use of the right flank throughout the match. This would prove an issue for Harpo’s in the second half that could not be resolved.
Most of the first half was played with nervous tension filling the spaces. Neither side was able to set a marker in the ground until Harpo’s long time number 10, Kyle Luetkehans put one past the keeper to give Harpo’s the early lead in the 13th minute.
Things began to heat up at that point. Azteca were pressing their case on the attack and getting closer to a goal of their own when Harpo’s goalkeeper Zac Gibbens came out of his box and clipped Naoyas Aizawa of Azteca. This resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick to Azteca, which Erik Chavez put in the back of the net. This brought the score to 1-1
As the half was coming to a close there was a skirmish in front of the Harpo’s net. Azteca players had converged around the ball where Gibbens had just made a close save inside the six yard box. After the whistle blew Gibbens popped up off the deck with a lot of emotion. Several minutes of pushing and moving ensued, with the final result being red cards for both sides, unfortunately for Harpo’s one of those red cards went to Gibbens, leaving Harpo’s with the unenviable task of having to replace their starting goalkeeper.
The second half opened with each team down a man after the dual red cards. Harpo’s seemed to have left their game in the locker room, while Azteca came out ready to take the match by the scruff of the neck. Nine minutes into the second half Eric Hernandez fed Dehrian Ramirez for a goal that gave Azteca a 2-1 lead.
In what appeared to be Deja Vu all over again, Dehrian Ramirez recorded his brace in the 62nd minute on a play that looked eerily similar to the goal that was scored just minutes before. Azteca was rolling, Harpo’s looked like they had no answers at this point, In order to try to get some offense into the side, Harpo’s, team owner Johnny Freeston, who was sitting in for suspended coach Steve Lepper of Harpo’s, went to the bench to. swap out the center forwards, Stibe came on for Whittle in the 67th minute.
This strategy seemed to work as just three minutes later Dan Campbell pulled one back for Harpo’s, the scoreline now stood at 3-2, with Azteca hanging on to a one-goal advantage.
As the temperature dipped into the 30s and the light began to fade it seemed to give Azteca new life. They clung to their lead and kept the pressure on, looking for more goals. Suddenly in the 75th minute, Erik Chavez completed his brace and Dehrian Ramirez completed his hat-trick of assists on the day.
Azteca had an opportunity to park the bus, however, that is not their DNA. The primarily Mexican-American side is aggressive and loves to attack with the ball. They continued to keep the heat on and attempted to grab another goal.
Two minutes into extra time Harpo’s Leutkhens pulls one back for Harpo’s to make the match 4-3. Kyle has been a stalwart for the Boulder side for four seasons, and he was clearly the man of the match for Harpo’s on the day.
There were several candidates for man of the match from Azteca, but Dehrian Ramirez’s playmaking and his ability to be in the right place at the right time set him apart with three assists.
The qualifying tournament is over for the fall, as Azteca FC advances to the tournament proper for the second year in a row. They will look to improve on their one-and-done appearance in the 2017 competition. In their Open Cup debut, they lost a narrow 1-0 extra time decision, on the road, to the National Premier Soccer League’s FC Wichita.