Duluth FC celebrates their PK victory over Dakota Fusion FC in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Seth Steffenhagen | Steffenhagen Photography
A cold and dreary evening in Duluth, Minnesota set the stage for an offensive extravaganza between the Dakota Fusion and Duluth FC in the first round of Open cup play as Duluth FC prevailed on penalty kicks 3-0, after a 4-4 draw and extra time at James Malosky stadium.
Prior to the match, Duluth FC head coach Joel Person said “the weather is a challenge,” but explained the team was going to stick with their game plan regardless.
What in fact proved to be the biggest challenge early in the match for the Duluth squad was the goal scored by Dakota Fusion’s Maia Willis just 22 seconds into the match, one of the fastest goals in the tournament’s Modern Era (1995-present). The goal set the tone for the first 20 minutes of the match, which was dominated by the Fusion.
Reversing the Dakota Fusion’s first half dominance, Joel Watt scored for Duluth in the 31st minute. Followed by a Ricardo Ramos goal shortly thereafter, and capped by a Sean Morgan strike in the 35th. Duluth led 3-1 heading into the half.
After the first half, it appeared that the Duluth offense was unstoppable, and that Dakota was going to be going to be exiting the tournament early.
The Fusion would have none of this. More specifically, Jade Johnson.
Duluth FC goalkeeper Alberto Ciroi makes a save in the PK shootout vs. Dakota Fusion FC in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Seth Steffenhagen | Steffenhagen Photography
Johnson answered for the Dakota Fusion with a the 47th minute strike and again with another, a minute later tying up the game at 3-3, giving the Fusion a much needed offensive infusion.
However, Duluth FC was far from finished. Ricardo Ramos brought the advantage back to the Duluth side with a 50th minute goal, putting them up 4-3.
The pace of the game settled down for a spell after the Ramos goal, with both side’s offense lying dormant. until a great assist by FC Duluth’s Jacob Weiler to George Gauld tied the game up once again at 4-4.
The Fusion were not going to let this game go down without a fight.
At the close of regulation, a frightening moment occurred as Ivan Adika and Akeem Smith collided on the field and were both motionless for a short period of time.
Adika was given a red card for the hit, and Smith was injured and could no longer continue. Dakota had made all their substitutions by this time and no update was given on Smith’s condition, but he was able to walk off the field under his own power.
Duluth FC goalkeeper Alberto Ciroi celebrates his team’s PK victory over Dakota Fusion FC in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Seth Steffenhagen | Steffenhagen Photography
In extra time, both teams battled for possession, but neither team was able to hit the net. There were a few close calls for both teams, but game headed to penalties at the conclusion of extra time.
Up first was Duluth’s Santiago Garcia Castro, who scored the first PK with a bullet. Followed the Fusion’s George Gauld who missed far right of the net. Joe Watt managed to score for Duluth, followed by a surprising miss by Dakota’s Jade Johnson who had already bagged two goals on the night.
However, Duluth couldn’t make it 3 for 3, as Garga Nyuah couldn’t convert. Dakota’s Ben Eastwell followed with a miss of his own and left Vlad Margolin with the chance to win it for Duluth FC.
Margolin placed a solid strike outside the keeper’s hands, giving Duluth a well-earned victory.
Duluth FC owner Tim Sas had one word for the game: “Unbelievable!”
Duluth moves on to host Saint Louis FC of the USL in Round 2 on May 16.