The New York Pancyprian Freedoms traveled down to New Jersey and pushed the Jackson Lions FC to its limits during regulation, but with a 0-0 scoreline after 120 minutes the visitors needed a penalty shootout to advance. The Freedoms won the shootout, 3-1, to eliminate the sole Garden State team left in the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup qualifying tournament for Open Division local teams.
The three-time US Open Cup Champions maintained a majority of ball possession and shot attempts throughout the contest against the Lions. The visitors were able to find a lane up the left side of the field early, leading to multiple scoring opportunities with crosses or strikes against Jackson goalkeeper Charlie Cunliffe.
On the other end of the field, the Lions offense never went away despite getting less time with the ball. The home team put better quality chances up between the two sides against Freedoms goalkeeper Héctor Guerrero, including a header by defender Matthew Jeffery off a corner that sailed just over the crossbar in the 12th minute.
Guerrero explained after the game that the low temperature is its own unique challenge when his team maintained majority possession, making every Jackson attempt even more challenging.
“It’s always hard to play when its really cold out and you don’t have too much action because any second you can get tested and you have to perform,” Guerrero said. “The good thing about our team is that they play a lot back so that always keeps me moving side to side.”
The Freedoms’ best chance at taking the lead in regulation came in the 74th minute when midfielder and leading scorer Adam Himeno’s header hit the left post before the ensuing rebound was ripped wide right of the net past a diving Cunliffe.
Both teams got excruciatingly close to taking the lead during extra time as neither defense could find a consistent rhythm late in the game. Lions midfielder Nick Costelloe’s shot in 98th minute brought the fans in the Jackson Justice Complex to their feet as the ball went wide of the net passed a diving Guerrero. The few but vocal Freedom faithful were also teased with a scoring chance in the 115th minute when defender George Spanos’ shot just missed going into the top right corner of the net.
Throughout the game both teams physicality was also put on display. Despite two separate Lions players earning yellow cards during the match, it would be the Freedoms’ Andrea Andreou who would force the red card out of the officials back pocket in the 119th minute. A late offensive challenge inside the Jackson box would mean Andreou, who led the team in yellow cards last year in Cosmopolitan Soccer League play, would leave the field before his team’s fate could be decided.
In the penalty kick shootout, Guerrero helped seal the game for the New York side by saving two of the four shots he faced while only allowing one to get past him. Jackson’s hopes of a first ever cup appearance were shattered as defender Simon Tchoukriel sunk his shot passed Cunliffe to advance his team to the third round of qualifying.
With one win separating the team from its first Open Cup berth since 2016, Guerrero knows improvements need to be made before their next game.
“I believe that our touch wasn’t there,” Guerrero said. “We were working pretty good and getting in their half but we couldn’t put one in … So I think just working more on finishing or quick passes instead of taking the ball too much and try to start scoring from the beginning.”