Players from NTX Rayados and Fort Worth Vaqueros battle for the ball during their 2018 US Open Cup match. Photo: Mirco Daniel Mbega Ndoumou
Dallas-based NTX Rayados bagged a goal in extra time to get past their visiting neighbors from the west, the Fort Worth Vaqueros (NPSL) and advanced to the Second Round of the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Christian Okeke, who scored the late game-winner that secured Rayados’ qualification back in November, came on as a second half substitute and scored the game winner in the 115th minute. The two sides put on a show in the first half, trading free kick goals before settling in for a stalemate that went the extra 30 minutes.
The home team grabbed momentum right out of the gate when Rayados earned a corner kick in the second minute and were denied by Fort Worth goalkeeper Marko Jovanovic on a point-blank shot inside the six-yard box.
In the fifth minute, Fort Worth defender Roger Da Costa received a yellow card for conceding a hard foul on the edge of the penalty area. The foul would prove to be a costly mistake as NTX midfielder Lucio Martinez curled his free kick effort into the near-post upper 90 to grab the early lead.
The home team kept up the pressure and earned another corner kick in the 17th minute, only to be denied by Jovanovic on the ensuing shot.
Fort Worth earned their first opportunity in the 25th minute, drawing a free kick of their own just outside the box. Bobby Edet stepped up and fired a rocket, untouched, into the back of the net to level the score at 1-1. However, Edet would fail to convert on two separate opportunities in the next three minutes.
In the second minute of first half stoppage time, NTX’s Sergio Lara was through in on goal, rounded Jovanovic, and was brought down in the box, earning himself a penalty. Unfortunately for Lara, the Vaqueros goalkeeper guessed correctly and made the save to preserve the stalemate going into halftime.
If the first half was defined by chances created, the second half was highlighted by missed opportunities. Both sides looked a step slow as the game wore on, but Fort Worth had more opportunities early in the second half as forward Masue Kalle Sone found himself free in on goal twice in five minutes, only to waste both chances with poor shots right at the keeper.
NTX introduced Okeke in the 53rd minute and Alberto Rodriguez in the 62nd minute and both had immediate impacts, helping swing the momentum toward the home side. Okeke hit a shot that struck the wrong side of the woodwork in the 73rd minute and Rodriguez helped his side earn a pair of corner kicks in the final ten minutes; though neither resulted in a chance created.
In the first minute of second half stoppage time, Rodriguez created enough space for himself to shoot from 30 yards out, but his shot sailed just over the crossbar and the game went to extra time still deadlocked at 1-1.
Near the end of stoppage time NTX looked as though they might break through when they earned back to back free kicks, but they failed to convert either one.
The two teams were still deadlocked going into the extra time break and it looked as though they were destined for penalties until a long ball made its way into Fort Worth’s penalty area and Okeke took advantage of an ill-positioned Jovanovic to bury the winner with five minutes left in extra time.
“I saw an opportunity. I just cut it inside. The keeper was a little bit out of the goal, so I just took a touch around him and finished.”, Okeke said after the game.
Okeke also scored the game winner in the 85th minute back in November when Rayados scored twice in the final 10 minutes to advance past CD Motagua New Orleans and secure qualification for the 2018 tournament. Although NTX has qualified each of the last seven years, this was their first win, but not their first time advancing. They advanced in their opening match in 2014 after winning a penalty kick shootout with the Austin Aztex (PDL), but matches that finish in PKs are officially considered a draw.
Both teams’ fans, perhaps sensing an opportunity to form a new local rivalry, brought plenty of energy. About two dozen or so blue and yellow Vaqueros supporters made the hour-long trek from Fort Worth, almost splitting the crowd 50-50. However, Rayados player/coach Tito Salas felt his side’s supporters did enough to help their team get the victory.
“Well, to be honest, the atmosphere [was the difference]. We’re at home. We feel it.”, Salas said afterwards with celebratory music still echoing throughout the field.
Although there is some question as to whether or not Rayados will play a league game this weekend, between now and the second round next week, both Salas and Okeke like their chances to advance far into the tournament, just as they did in 2014.
“You just never know. We have a really good team here.”, said Okeke.
“Collectively, we’ve been on the same page. I mean…the sky’s the limit.”, Salas added.
NTX Rayados will host the United Soccer League’s (USL) OKC Energy in the next round on Wednesday, May 16 at Richland College in Dallas.