On what was a cold night in the West Texas town of El Paso, Southwest FC emerged victorious by a score of 3-0 over San Juan FC of Utah in the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament for the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. SWFC’s captain, David Lopez, set the tone with a goal and an assist from his left back position and the team’s ability to convert timely chances, if not all of their chances, put the result beyond doubt. The win could mean SWFC’s first Open Cup berth, but that celebration will be on hold for just a bit.
It is unclear, as of now, whether a Fourth Round, which is tentatively scheduled for March of 2019, will take place. Every professional team in the United States is automatically entered into the US Open Cup, and with the addition of an entirely new professional league with USL League One (Div. 3), and a number of expansion teams in the USL Championship (Div. 2), the format of next year’s tournament has yet to be finalized. Without a finalized format, it’s unclear how many Open Division teams (National Premier Soccer League, USL League Two — formerly Premier Development League — , and all of the Open Division Local teams) will be granted entry into the competition. It’s possible that ASC will have to play a Fourth Round qualifying match, but they won’t find out until January.
If Southwest FC ultimately does qualify, they would be just the third El Paso club (El Paso Patriots, El Paso Indios USA) to qualify for the tournament, but they would be the first one that wasn’t a part of the PDL or the NPSL.
Southwest FC got off to a lightning fast start for the second straight Open Cup game, opening the scoring after just two minutes through a combination of high pressure, quick passing, and a clinical finish at the end. It was Cesar Sosa, playing up top for SWFC who supplied the cool, left-footed finish.
The approach looked familiar, with their first goal against Sporting AZ in the Second Qualifying Round coming from similar early pressure.
“I think every game is different and we prepare for each differently … but the approach of Sporting and San Juan were similar so we saw it might work,” said SWFC manager Endy Gonzalez.
San Juan followed with a quick chance off a long throw, with Elias Dandi striking the post with a glancing header that nearly caught SWFC out. From there, the strategy for SWFC shifted, opting for control and looking for their opportunities to get forward and attack San Juan, who had chosen to sit back for much of the first half.
This led to a period of about 25 minutes where chances were hard to come by for either team. However, SWFC struck again in the 35th minute. A break down the right hand side eventually fed Sosa again, who was able to find David Lopez at the far post. Lopez made no mistake, smashing the ball into the upper left-hand corner and sending SWFC into the break with a two-goal advantage.
The break served San Juan well and they came out snarling in the second half. The visitors from Utah were the better side after the interval and threatened to dent SWFC’s lead.
Still it was the El Paso side that threatened first, with Alexis Gomez forcing a save from San Juan’s Juan Parente with a curling effort from the right side of the area. San Juan maintained pressure though and Dandi struck the post with the visitors best chance of the game.
As the game entered its final half hour, both teams made a few substitutions. SWFC won the tactical battle, as they earned a free kick on the left wing. The captain Lopez stepped up to take and delivered a free kick that evaded the defense and recent sub Mario Ramirez powered home the finish to give SWFC the 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach for San Juan.
The Utah club did not go quietly, as they tested Daniel Medina in the SWFC goal a number of times. The last 10 minutes was mainly San Juan knocking on the SWFC goal and then being immediately countered by the fresh substitutes down either flank. This sequence of punches and counterpunches saw the clock run to ninety minutes and SWFC claimed the well-deserved victory.
The US Open Cup has many instances where teams who are not familiar with each other have to adapt. This particular matchup was the first between these teams and SWFC was able to grab that early advantage that sent San Juan searching for solutions. This adaptability could serve SWFC well as they progress further in the competition.