In a battle between two teams making their Lamar Hunt US Open Cup debuts, it was the home team that held serve.
The NPSL’s Erie Commodores triumphed over the Rochester River Dogz of the Rochester District Soccer League in a mesmerizing 5-4 penalty shootout win after the two sides played to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes. This marked just the second time in the Modern Era (1995-present), and the second year in a row, that an amateur team from Western Pennsylvania has advanced in the tournament. They join Tartan Devils Oak Avalon who reached Round 2 in the 2017 US Open Cup.
This was also the first time Erie has advanced in club
Erie opened the scoring in the 27th minute. Forward Sam White got in behind the Rochester back line from the left hand side and centered the ball to Cameron Philpot, who made no mistake one-timing it past Rochester goalkeeper William Banahene to make it 1-0.
The visitors, led by head coach Doug Miller, a US Open Cup champion with the Rochester Rhinos, remained headstrong despite the repeated Erie forays into their defensive third. And late in the first half, they found themselves with an opportunity of their own that they pounced on. Midfielder Austin Gerber collected a long ball in the 45th minute and dribbled into the Erie box. He then slotted a deftly placed near-post shot, beating goalkeeper Nicolau Neto for the equalizer.
Erie continued to put the River Dogz on the back foot after halftime. But Rochester were resolute defensively and successfully repelled the Commodores’ scoring chances throughout the entirety of the second stanza. After 90 minutes, the two sides remained deadlocked at one apiece which necessitated 30 minutes of extra time.
The best chance of the first extra session came from the River Dogz. In the 96th minute, William Stone came onto a cross from the right and headed it at goal. But Neto was up to the task, parrying it to his left to avoid falling behind to the underdogs.
Erie reasserted control on the match in the second 15 minute extra period. It resulted in a legitimate chance in the 112th minute when Philpot had a chance for a brace. But Banahene, who made quite a few impressive saves himself to keep Rochester in the game during regulation time, did so again in to keep things tied up.
The River Dogz net minder was called into action once more in the 118th minute. This time, it was a chance for second half substitute Jack Simpson to be the hero for the home side. But Banahene came off his line and prevented Simpson from flicking it over him.
In keeping with the theme of goalkeeping exploits, Neto had something left in the tank himself. In the 120th minute, the Erie goalkeeper made another sprawling save to his left. After the resulting corner, the Commodores sprung a counterattack which resulted in a free kick. But nothing resulted from it and the match when to a penalty shootout.
The battle of spot kicks was a back and forth affair. But Erie was given a lifeline when defender Alexander Harling hit his effort over the crossbar. Though Rochester converted the remainder of their kicks, Erie made all five with their spot in the Open Cup getting wrapped up when Casey Bartlett-Scott stepped up and buried his past Banahene for the win.
Erie’s triumph meant a lot to the team considering their looming opponent, the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, has a connection to the club.
“The big motivation was to bring the Riverhounds here next week,” Commodores manager Dale White said post-game. “There’s one of our own boys, Andy Lubahn, who plays for the Riverhounds now so we were already in touch as soon as the draw came out and saying it would be nice to bring him back.”
The Commodores’ looming showdown in the second round of the tournament with a professional side just a few hours drive down I-79 takes place on Wednesday, May 16.