The first round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup kicked off across the country Wednesday night, and two lower-division teams squared off in Matthews, North Carolina, in front of 310 fans.
It wasn’t pretty for the team from the Carolinas.
The 2017 PDL champion Charlotte Eagles hosted NPSL’s Inter Nashville FC, and from the opening whistle, Inter Nashville went straight to work. Nashville pressed every pass from the Eagles and pushed the ball up the field with a purpose, and the Eagles simply could not counter. Inter was playing in their first-ever US Open Cup game while the Eagles were playing in their 27th, but experience didn’t matter as Nashville dominated Charlotte from the opening whistle, winning 6-1 to advance to Round 2. With the win, they earn a date with the pro team in their city, Nashville SC of the USL.
Nashville put points on the board first by earning a direct kick in the fourth minute deep inside Eagles territory. NPSL 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Chuka Aruh sent his shot over the Eagles’ wall and into the back of the net to open the scoring.
We are delighted to welcome back Center Forward Chuka Aruh for 2018.
— Inter Nashville FC (@internashfc) February 10, 2018
Aruh, a 6-foot-3, 208-pound forward then went full-on beast mode, following his opening goal with another in the sixth minute, stealing the ball from an Eagles defender just outside the 18 yard box, driving to the right, and scoring a brace in less than six minutes.
He came to PLAY!
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 9, 2018
That would be all that was needed to win, as the Eagles failed throughout the night on defense and lacked the ability to counter, possess the ball, or even manage to get a shot on goal in the first half.
In the 21st minute, Nashville scored an incredible goal. Coming off the corner kick, Ivan Sakou bicycle kicked his own deflected shot just inside the 18 yard box on the right side. Richard Reichenberger headed it in past Eagles and Wake Forest goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg, putting Inter Nashville up 3–0.
Come for the goal, stay for the assist.
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 9, 2018
In the 35th minute, Aruh completed his first-half hat trick. The Eagles, having earned a free kick off an Inter Nashville yellow card, failed to capitalize, and Aruh broke out on the counter.
At 45’+, Sakou would find the back of the net himself with the first of his two goals for the night, sending Inter Nashville into half-time up 5–0 over the Eagles. The Eagles came out in the second half with a renewed sense of focus, and after a series of solid passes, a drive into the box was met with a poor foul by Nashville and a Charlotte penalty kick in the 56th minute. Eagle Todd Fidlerconverted the penalty kick and put the first and only point on the board for the Eagles.
— Soccer ‘n’ Sweet Tea (@SoccerNSweetTea) May 10, 2018
However, the Eagles would not be able to carry any momentum forward after that. After coming on strong at the start of the second half, the Eagles once again fell flat, failing to pass the ball effectively and having multiple long passes intercepted or broken up by Nashville’s strong midfield.
In the 85th minute, Sakou put the sixth and final point on the board for Nashville, and after five additional minutes of stoppage time, that is how it would end. Inter Nashville defeated the Charlotte Eagles 6–1 at home, and they advance to the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Inter Nashville recorded the first U.S. Open Cup win for a Nashville team in 20 years and are now slated to play Nashville SC next Wednesday night in what at least one online commentator has labeled “El Nashico.”
The Charlotte Eagles will face the Myrtle Beach Mutiny this coming Saturday back at the Sportsplex in Matthews.
The Mutiny also lost their first round U.S. Open Cup match, 2–1 to the South Georgia Tormenta.