Danny O’Reilly of Celtic Cowboys lines up a shot against Motagua of New Orleans in the 2019 US Open Cup qualifying tournament. Photo: Helen Koblitz
Since the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup was launched in 2015, Motagua of New Orleans have been a force in the competition. Motagua qualified for the full tournament in 2016, the team from the Crescent City has reached the final qualifying round in each of the last two years, only to fall to NTX Rayados on the road both times.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, Motagua traveled more than 500 miles to Round Rock, Texas and defeated the Celtic Cowboys Premier, 3-2 to advance to the Third Round of qualifying. Brandon Chagnard led the way with a pair of goals as they move one step closer to returning to the US Open Cup.
The United States Soccer Federation has yet to confirm if Round 3 will be a “Win & You’re In” match, but regardless, the stakes will be high as they will host the NTX Rayados on Nov. 17 with revenge on their minds.
“Despite some arduous traveling which resulted in losing our uniforms and getting to the field late and barely having time to warm up, we were able to put together a good performance, in cold and wet conditions,” said Motagua player/coach Steven Morris, who scored the team’s second goal that put them ahead early in the second half.
Motagua lost one of their bags on the flight from New Orleans to Austin that contained the majority of their team uniforms, which forced them to come up with a backup plan. They were able to find The Soccer Corner, a local soccer store that could create new uniforms on short notice. (In a classy move, Celtic Cowboys offered to let Motagua use their away uniforms, but arrangements had already been made with The Soccer Corner).
As the game began, it was a rainy and frigid afternoon in Central Texas, fairly unusual for this time of year. Motagua arrived late and so didn’t have time to warm up, which was far from ideal for the visitors. As the first half kicked off, the Celtic Cowboys showed the benefits of warming up, as they came out of the gates quickly. In fact, they almost scored in the 5th minute with a low ball across the front of goal only inches from being a tap in.
Anthony Peters and player/coach Steven Morris of Motagua of New Orleans celebrate as the numbers are being added to their last minute replacement soccer jerseys at The Soccer Corner in Round Rock, Texas. Motagua lost most of their original uniforms on the flight to their 2019 US Open Cup qualifier against Celtic Cowboys Premier.
As the match progressed, Motagua grew into the game and looked very comfortable passing quick, short balls and keeping the lion’s share of possession. The Celtic strategy was to get on the wings or play over the top, which Motagua countered by playing a high line, led by Anthony Peters. Peters almost scored in the 24th minute from a blistering strike from 25 yards out, but it missed the target by inches.
In the 32nd minute, Motagua’s Brandon Chagnard, a former star for the PDL’s New Orleans Jesters, scored a wonderfully-placed free kick. The rest of the first half was dominated by Motagua, who outshot Celtic 10 to 5, though they ended the half up only 1-0.
“I felt we controlled most of the game and the ensuing opportunities and fully deserved to be up at half,” said Morris. “But in the second half the Cowboys came to play and made it very hard for us.”
The second half saw a much different Celtic side, as they had changed tactics from looking for a ball over the top to playing directly to Christopher Wright, who had been brought on in the first half for Martin Togher. Wright was effective in using his big frame to bully Motagua’s back line, challengin Peters, himself a large and physical player. Wright’s physical play got him booked in the 50th minute, but he was later rewarded with an equalizer in the 56th minute.
“After the equalizer, the game was in the balance until we struck quickly twice to what we thought would put the game out of reach,” said Morris.
Against the run of play, Motagua regained the lead on a tidy finish by Morris in the 67th minute. Two minutes later, Chagnard scored his second goal of the game off a rebound to put Motagua up 3-1. Motagua had also changed their tactics from the first half by looking to get into the box before shooting, which limited the amount of shots but allowed them to be more clinical in front of goal, forcing saves from Celtic goalkeeper Mitchell McKay.
As the game progressed, Motagua looked to be in complete control, and many Celtic fans in the stands looked to escape the cold, wet weather. However, as the temperature outside dropped, the game warmed up into an exciting finish.
“The last ten minutes was all Cowboys, resulting in a second goal and a very tough last few minutes,” said Morris. “Luckily enough we were able to hang on for the victory.”
In the 87th minute, Celtic’s Taylor Peoples scored, giving them a life line and hope that a third goal would even the score. What followed was an all-out attack, and it almost resulted in a goal from a corner, with a header that was blocked on the line.
Overall, it was clash of two different styles of soccer. Motagua was very pass-orientated, with an almost Central/South American feel, and the Celtic side had a tough, tackling British style. It made for a very fun match to watch, and the game could have gone either way. In the end, it is Motagua that progresses to the next stage of the qualifying tournament.
Motagua will host their Round 3 match against NTX Rayados on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Pan American Stadium in New Orleans. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern Time.
Josh Hakala also contributed to this report