NTX Rayados pose for a team photo before their 2019 US Open Cup qualifying match against Leon FC. Photo: NTX Rayados
It was all about “redemption” on Saturday night in New Orleans.
The North Texas (NTX) Rayados, who are attempting to qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the eighth year in a row, needed 11 rounds of penalty kicks to survive and advance their 2019 Open Division Local Qualifying match against Motagua of New Orleans. After the match finished in a 1-1 draw, Kevin Ellis of NTX Rayados stepped to the penalty spot in the opening round and had his attempt saved. A couple rounds later, Motagua’s Nestor Peralta had his attempt ring off the crossbar which helped level the shootout at 3-3. No one missed until Round 11 when Rayados goalkeeper Emmanuel “Bebo” Frias dove to his right to stop Brandon Chagnard’s attempt to open the door for the visitors.
This left North Texas player/manager Tito Salas with a tough decision. With the shootout on the line, he had the choice to put Ellis back out there for a second attempt, or to choose another player to take the shot.
Salas didn’t hesitate: “I told him, ‘It’s time for redemption’.”
Ellis stepped to the spot, fired it to the right of Motagua netminder Jose Santos Jr. and into the back of the net to send Rayados to the final round of qualifying.
Motagua finished the game with 10 men after a second yellow card was issued to Leo Barros late in the second half, so when it came time for the shootout, the rules state that once the shorthanded team finishes with their last player in the shootout, the team with 11 players has a choice. They can either allow their 11th player to shoot, or they can choose someone else.
For Salas, it was an easy decision and Ellis was more than confident that he could seal the deal.
“He usually scores his PKs,” said Salas. “There’s a reason why he went first [in the shootout]. We are very confident in him.”
That confidence paid off as NTX Rayados will advance to the final round of the qualifying where they are likely to face off with the El Paso, Texas-based Southwest FC at a venue that will be announced by the US Soccer Federation in the coming weeks. The date of the fourth and final round is scheduled for the weekend of April 6-7.
The Rayados are attempting to qualify for the US Open Cup for the eighth consecutive season, which would extend their Modern Era (1995-present) record for an Open Division Local team.
This rivalry has been growing since they first met in 2012. NTX Rayados are unbeaten against Motagua in US Open Cup qualifying since their first meeting, and every match has had a lot on the line. This was the first time that the match between the two clubs didn’t decide who got into the US Open Cup. However, the overall rivalry isn’t dominated by the Rayados. In Amateur Cup play, Motagua has had the edge, winning all three meetings, including a win in the USASA Region III Amateur Cup Final that sent the Crescent City club to the national finals.
“It’s been a great rivalry,” said Salas. “But it’s been more of a friendship. We get along with them.”
NTX Rayados arrived in New Orleans with just 12 players, but it was their play in the first half that gave them confidence, including the opening goal in the later part of the first half. The play started out of the back where Salas fed the ball to Jose Antonio Hernandez on the wing. Hernandez took the ball to the endline and crossed it into the penalty area where it took a deflection in front and fell to the feet of the team’s all-time US Open Cup goalscorer, Alberto Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who scored two goals in the club’s upset of the Oklahoma City Energy (USL) in the Second Round of last year’s tournament, slotted the ball past the goalkeeper to put the visitors in front.
The Rayados went into the halftime break with the lead and with plenty of confidence.
“We had some good chances early,” said Salas, who hit the crossbar in the first half. “It seemed like it was going to be a different outcome from the beginning. But once they scored their goal [in the second half] they got really hype and they were all over us.”
That equalizer came for Motagua in the with about 10 minutes left in regulation.
Motagua’s player/manager Steven Morris was the hero for the home team. He played a through ball to Samir Garcia down the left wing, who took possession and dribbled inside the box. Garcia laid the ball off with a back heel and Morris finished from the corner of the six-yard box to the near post.
NTX Rayados players Christopher Escalera (left) and Cedric Nickerson get ready in the locker room before their 2019 US Open Cup qualifying match against Motagua of New Orleans. Photo: Goose | NTX Rayados
The energy ramped up for Motagua, who were playing against a road team who only had a backup goalkeeper Lorenzo Guillen on their bench (he would later enter the game as a field player in extra time). The momentum they gained from the goal, and the Rayados’ heavy legs, took a hit minutes later when Leo Barros was issued his second yellow card for a tackle from behind leaving the home side down to 10 men.
The match would go into extra time and NTX Rayados appeared to regain the lead but they had a goal taken off the board. On a set piece in the first extra time period, the ball was crossed in and after North Texas put the ball into the back of the net, celebrated that goal and started to head back to the center of the field for the kickoff, the referee and one of the linesman stopped them in their tracks. The two officials had a meeting and determined that the Rayados had committed a foul in the box prior to the goal.
The match would have to be determined at the penalty spot where NTX prevailed 10-9 to keep their five-game US Open Cup qualifying unbeaten streak alive against Motagua of New Orleans.
“It was a hard-played game like we expected,” said Motagua player/manager Steven Morris. “It’s the type of game everyone gets up for. Congratulations to the Rayados and we wish them luck going forward. It’s tough when you play with 10 men [for so long] and once you get to PKs, it’s a gamble. I’m really proud of my boys and we will be back.”
“They fought hard,” said Salas about his Rayados club. “You could tell that our legs were giving up on us [in the second half and in extra time], but I’m proud of the guys. It definitely wasn’t what we expected, and it definitely wasn’t easy.”
These two teams have been scheduled to play each other in every US Open Cup qualifying tournament since 2013, with NTX Rayados winning four times along with another match finishing in a draw (that helped the Rayados clinch a spot in the US Open Cup). In their first meeting that took place in New Orleans in 2013, NTX Rayados cruised to a 4-0 win in the USASA Region III Open Cup Semifinals, which punched their ticket to the 2013 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
There was no qualifying tournament in 2014 as the USASA was changing their qualifying method, but the two teams met again in June of 2014 in Montgomery, Ala. to decide the entries for the 2015 US Open Cup. In group play, NTX Rayados just needed a draw against Motagua in the final game to clinch their fourth straight Open Cup berth, and they got just that, as the game finished 3-3.
The USSF created the current Open Division Local qualifying tournament in 2016 and the two teams were scheduled to play before the federation decided to cancel the final round and enter all of the remaining clubs into the tournament. The two teams met in the final round in each of the last two years with NTX Rayados winning both games in Balch Springs, Texas, 2-0, in 2017, and by the score of 2-1 last year.
2019 US Open Cup Qualifying Round 3
Motagua of New Orleans 1:1 NTX Rayados
NTX advances, 10-9 in penalty kicks
Penalty Kick Shootout
NOLA: Brandon Chagnard (GOAL)
NTX: Kevin Ellis (SAVED)
NOLA: Steven Morris (GOAL)
NTX: Jose Antonio Hernandez (GOAL)
NOLA: Nestor Peralta (MISS)
NTX: Mychel Jones (GOAL)
NOLA: Scott Burris (GOAL)
NTX: Victor Pinal (GOAL)
NOLA: Samir Arzu (GOAL)
NTX: Cedric Nickerson (GOAL)
NOLA: Hisham Aldbziz
NTX: Chris Escalera (GOAL)
NOLA: Anthony Peters (GOAL)
NTX: Alberto Rodriguez (GOAL)
NOLA: Patrick Lynch (GOAL)
NTX: Tito Salas (GOAL)
NOLA: Fernando Vargas (GOAL)
NTX: Brandon Pfluger (GOAL)
NOLA: Jose Santos Jr. (GK) (GOAL)
NTX: Emmanuel “Bebo” Frias (GK) (GOAL)
NOLA: Brandon Chagnard (SAVED)
NTX: Kevin Ellis (GOAL)