NTX Rayados pose for a team photo before their 2019 US Open Cup qualifying match against Leon FC. Photo: NTX Rayados
MORE: 2019 US Open Cup Qualifying Schedule/Results
NTX Rayados used late goals in each half from Tito Salas and Alberto Rodriguez to defeat Leon FC 2-0 and advance to the third round of qualifying for the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Salas opened the scoring in the 43rd minute and Rodriguez, a halftime sub, put the game away for good with a goal in the 88th minute.
Rayados had initially been scheduled to host the game, but heavy rain in the Dallas area throughout the week left their preferred venue unplayable and Leon were made the home side less than 24 hours before kickoff. The last minute switch also meant the two teams were forced into an early kickoff: 8:30 a.m. local time.
Salas, who often functions as a player-coach, was wary of the early kickoff time and actually wanted to get an early goal.
“We came out with a little bit more energy than we’re used to coming out with at the start,” said Salas. “Although it didn’t come out the way we actually planned – we wanted an early goal – we eventually got it before half. And that was the objective.”
Indeed, the starting lineup featured one particularly strong indicator that Rayados wanted to get off to a fast start. Winger Christian Okeke, who was narrowly voted runner-up for TheCup.us Lower Division Player of the Tournament for the 2018 US Open Cup for his role as a super sub, found himself starting up top and according to Salas that was by design.
“That was part of it. He was up for it. He’s used to coming in from the bench … even last night I prepped him,” explained Salas. “I said ‘We just don’t want to take any chances.’ He did the job. He did what he could.”
The early start seemed to affect both sides’ backlines the most. Within the first five minutes, each team’s goalkeeper was forced to leave the penalty box to intervene and clear early through balls that beat their respective backlines. Neither team looked willing to put too much effort into winning the ball back early on either. The game’s first foul didn’t come until the 19th minute as the two sides traded possession. Rayados ultimately settled in and controlled possession for the rest of the first half, but Leon had actually registered more shots attempted up until Salas’ goal just before half.
In the 43rd minute, Rayados made their way into the box and midfielder Tommy Nelson managed to poke the ball free from under the feet of Leon’s keeper. He looked up and played a short pass to Salas on the edge of the box and he curled a perfect shot off the far post to give NTX the lead.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Rayados brought on veteran forward Alberto Rodriguez at the start of the second half. But Leon, who have faced Rayados in years past in league play, didn’t lie down and put up a fight in the second half. Midfielder Bryce Kingsly made some charging runs through the field of the field and that opened things up for the home side to exploit space on the wing. Unfortunately, they couldn’t turn their chances into shots on goal. They did manage to earn a free kick on the edge of the box in the 77th minute, but Ian Kalis’ effort went straight into the wall. Rayados center back Bradon Pfluger was booked with a yellow card for dissent five minutes later and it looked as though Leon might break through with an equalizer.
In the 88th minute Rayados winger Jamie Lovegrove caught Leon’s backline napping and played Rodriguez through with a quick throw in from midfield. Rodriguez, who had been in an offside position, got to the ball directly off the throw and quickly rounded the keeper to convert the chance and seal his side’s 2-0 win.
Salas noted the two sides had met before in league play and was quick to praise his entire team’s effort.
“I knew they were going to come out with everything. They wanted to take us out. It was definitely a collective effort today, said Salas.”
NTX Rayados await the winner of CD Motagua New Orleans and Austin, Texas-based Celtic Cowboys Premier in the third and final round of qualifying for the 2019 tournament. If they win, they will take another step toward qualifying for their eighth consecutive Open Cup as an Open Division Local (amateur) side, which would be a Modern Era (since 1995) record.