NTX Rayados players celebrate during their Fourth Round match against FC Maritsa in the 2019 US Open Cup Open Division Local qualifying tournament. Photo: NTX Rayados
The NTX (North Texas) Rayados came into Saturday night’s game looking to qualify for a record-extending eighth Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, while their opponents, FC Maritsa were aiming to make some history of their own. Rayados already have a reputation as one of the toughest Open Division Local teams in the country, and last year had their best run in team history by reaching the Fourth Round. They did that by defeating the Fort Worth Vaqueros (USL League Two), OKC Energy FC (USL), and FC Wichita (NPSL) before falling to the eventual champion Houston Dynamo (MLS) on the road.
Maritsa, who traveled to Dallas from St. Louis, were unable to prevent Rayados from extending their Modern Era (1995-present) qualifying record as the home team came away with a 5-0 win.
Rayados’ Sergio Lara put in a masterful performance, scoring two goals and contributing to the play which resulted in the opening own-goal. The game reached its peak intensity early in the first half and never let up, with a total of six yellow cards handed out between the two sides with several tense and heated moments on the field.
“We’re reliving where we left off last year,” player/coach Tito Salas said following the win. It’s clear the Open Cup means a lot to Salas and his teammates. “That’s why we’re in, that’s why we’re still playing, you know, believe it or not.”
The game was moved to the turf field at Mercy Street Sports Complex in Dallas due to thunderstorms that soaked the original venue’s grass field. With more rain in the forecast, the Rayados played it safe and moved the game. In the end, the weather conditions ended up being ideal.
The opening goal was an own-goal as defensive disorganization on the part of Maritsa saw the ball deflected into the wrong net. Seven minutes later, Maritsa’s Richard Schmermund was issued a yellow card for a clumsy tackle, which seemed to set both teams off.
From there through the rest of the first half, Maritsa channeled their early frustrations into pressure against Rayados, and Rayados responded by getting physical. Salas received a yellow in the 37th minute, followed almost immediately by another yellow to goalkeeper Emmanuel Frias Ramirez.
The first half ended with Rayados leading 1-0 but with two players already on a yellow card. After the break, whatever speech Maritsa coach Stefan St. Louis gave worked, as Maritsa began the half with a meaningful sense of urgency, pushing hard against the Rayados defense.
After a Maritsa player picked up a yellow card in the 54th minute, tempers cooled down for a moment, which saw Maritsa let up the pressure just enough for Sergio Lara to bury the ball into the back of the net from just inside the box in the 67th.
Tempers immediately flared again, with another yellow card issued to Rayados’ Lucio Martinez in the 69th, who responded with a goal of his own to put Rayados up 3-0 in the 70th.
Maritsa’s side became increasingly visibly and audibly frustrated. When midfielder Vadim Cojocov looked for assistance but found none, he chirped “Anybody over there? Fine, I’ll do it myself,” before attempting to shake three Rayados defenders.
With tempers still high, Rayados’ Reyes Vargas received the sixth yellow of the night for a clearly unnecessary challenge against a Maritsa counter, and the resulting free kick came dangerously close to putting the visitors on the board. The build up from the ensuing goal kick led to a pass to Lara, who scored his second goal of the night which might have once again taken a deflection off an opposing defender.
Four minutes later, Rayados sealed the deal and clinched their eighth appearance in the Open Cup with their fifth of the night, a very cheeky goal scored by Mariano Fazio which was set up by several tight passes from a very, very short corner. Rayados had taken two previous corners that were deflected wide to repeat the set piece, and with long corners not working, they went as short as possible.
The spirit of the Open Cup is a major factor behind Rayados continuing to play year after year.
“To be honest, the Open Cup is the reason why we’re still competing,” Salas said. “I know there’s gonna be a time where it’s gonna come to an end, but as long as we’re still in it, we’re gonna enjoy it and try and maximize the experience.”
With an eighth straight US Open Cup appearance continue to add to their tournament resume. No other Open Division Local (Open Division teams not in USL League Two or the NPSL) team in the Modern Era has more than four consecutive appearances. Now the Rayados have doubled that.