The New York Red Bulls Under-23s celebrate after winning the penalty kick shootout against FC Motown in the First Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Bob Larson
“For only the second time in its nine year history, the New York Red Bulls Under-23 team is heading to the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup after getting by National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) side FC Motown on penalty kicks. They won the shootout 5-3 after a thrilling 4-4 draw that featured a half-hour rain delay and two blown New York leads.
With the win, the team will head south west for the Second Round as it plays the first year USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC on Tuesday in Bluff City.
After the game, Red Bulls head coach Simon Nee said seeing his team grow over 120 minutes and five rounds of penalties is something special. Prior to Tuesday night the team had only had one friendly match together and had done much of its training through video.
“I think the boys showed so much character and heart and they put so much into the game,” Nee said. “I think they deserved to get through. It’s funny, at the beginning of the game you put these academy players together and some of the college guys that we have filtering in [as] a group of individuals and come the end of the game, we finished the game as a team. That was really a unique experience to watch them grow through that.”
Red Bulls goalkeeper Marcelin Gohier picked up nine saves during the 120 minute contest, but none bigger than the diving block against FC Motown’s Marcus Hackett in the fourth round of penalties. Hackett’s hard attempt went just to the right of Gohier, who dove to block it and give his team the advantage and, eventually, the win.
In a game that saw eight total goals from eight separate players, the scoring started in the first three minutes, as Motown’s Joseph Fala headed a cross right at Gohier. The blocked shot rebounded right to the striker who tapped it in to give his team the lead.
The pace of the game and team styles set a split tone in the early goings. While the Red Bulls had the first chance on goal just prior to Motown scoring, the actual offensive edge belonged to Motown, The Celtics. After scoring, though, New York began to connect passes and dictate the play, moving Motown’s back four almost at will.
It paid off in the 17th minute when Jonah Conway crossed the ball from the right side of the field right in front of the Motown goalkeeper David Greczek. New York’s JP Marin found himself within a group of his teammates in front of the net, where he headed the equalizer down past Greczek.
Not long after that, in the 25th minute, Brian Saramago cut across to midfield past a Motown defender and quickly shot from just above the 18-yard box. His hard strike was partially blocked by a Motown defender, and Greczek got a hand to it with a jumping save, but the momentum carried the ball past the goal line to give New York its first lead of the game.
As the game progressed, the pace shifted just as the weather did in Montclair. The bright, sunny skies that saw the Red Bulls pass around Morristown soon began to darken. Rain and distant lightning became the backdrop to a Motown surge with Hackett getting two close looks in the span of four minutes – including a headed attempt in the 36th that rolled just wide right, much to the anguish of the frustrated fans.
New York’s John Murphy received a yellow card for a rough challenge, during which he jokingly put both of his hands on the shoulders of the match official, which drew a laugh from both, just prior to halftime.
With some lightning spotted and the rain pouring down, the match was halted for an additional twenty minutes following the 15-minute intermission. Players were kept in the locker room and fans were asked to leave MSU Soccer Park and told to seek shelter.
For head coach Šaćir Hot’s FC Motown team, the thought of “who’ll stop the rain” was twofold. Many usual players were missing from the lineup due to the mix-up of them not submitting their Open Cup paperwork on time, including forwards Sidney Rivera and Chris Katona, the latter of which currently leads the Cosmopolitan Soccer League in both goals and assists with the fully amateur Cedar Star Academy.
After the game restarted at 8:35 pm with light rain still trickling down, Motown looked to be in the ascendancy, with two shots coming in the 54th and 57th. Yet, New York would score the next goal in the 59th minute when Saramago, going one-on-one with a defender, fed a charging Omar Sowe to his left, who shot a low roller past a falling Greczek. Coach Nee noted that he and the team wanted to use what stored energy they had to try and put the nail in Motown’s coffin quickly in the second half.
“You feel like the game’s there for you right,” Nee said. “You want to come out and score that third goal as quick as you can and there’s a lot of energy in the locker-room. It’s a case of just taking a breath and just managing that moment the best way you can and making sure that when the rain delay passes that you find that energy again to come out and show the kind willingness to break them down and score that all important third goal as quick as you can.”
Down by two goals with just over a half hour to play, Motown put all its cards on the table. In the 63rd minute, Greczek and his backline blocked three shots before the final one careened off a player for a corner. The team’s defense buckled down and disallowed the long passes and short chips New York had gotten away with before.
It paid off in the 70th minute when a long pass to RJ Allen sent the former New York City FC star down the right side. The defender crossed to the middle where Kene Eze slammed the ball low past a Red Bull defender and Gohier’s right side to cut the lead to one. A minute later, Motown charged down field, as both Emerson Lawrence and Eze fed the ball past Gohier where Cameron Vickers tapped it in to tie the game at three each.
The momentum stayed with Motown as the team nearly found the winner in the 94th minute, when Ryan Campbell received a long pass while charging on net. His headed attempt went just wide left.
“To concede two quick goals there you would think one or two heads would go down,” Nee said. “Then it’s a test of ‘will you really waver’ and the boys managed to come through that.”
After a quiet first period of extra time that included a yellow card to each team, Vickers for Motown and Saramago for New York, the teams entered the last 15 minutes looking to end it early. New York nearly did that, too, when Jeciel Cedeno got a pass from Skylar Conway behind the backline. His low shot dinked off the right post and into the net to give his team the lead in the 110th minute.
Time winding down, the Celtics found their luck once again, as RJ Allen spotted Maximiliano Garcia. The sub, who had been shown a yellow a few minutes prior, got the ball at the top of the penalty box and tied the game again when his shot reached the back netting in the 119th minute. One final yellow to New York’s Salvatore Esposito saw the game move into penalty kicks.
In penalties, New York scored all of its attempts: Murphy, Jeciel Cedeno, Sowe, team captain Chinenye Uche, and Esposito – the latter of which sent his shot hard to the left in the same direction of a diving Greczek to win advancement for his team. For Motown, prior to Hackett’s miss, Allen, Fabio Vieira De Sousa, Matthew Nigro all scored from the spot.
Coach Nee knows it only gets tougher from here, but thinks the additional time to train with his team will be beneficial.
“The Open Cup probably comes around a week too early for us,” Nee explained. “But what that does is opens a unique opportunity for our academy players to get a really meaningful game against a very good men’s team and that experience alone is invaluable… We’ll have more players returning now in the next few weeks as more colleges wrap up and players get done with finals. The group will continue to evolve over the next few weeks and we’ll really start to look like the [USL League Two] group toward the end of the month.
“The next round provides the opportunity to get the group together for a week, review some of the things from this game and make the adjustments and improvements to make sure we’re better prepared for what I’m sure will be an ever tougher game in the next round.”