For the first time in the club’s relatively short history, New York City FC was able to taste victory in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. NYCFC pulled away from North Carolina FC in the second half on the strength of a pair of goals by Keaton Parks to beat the USL Championship side, 4-0 to advance to the Round of 16.
If you knew New York City Football Club’s history, then the first 25 minutes of this match would have made you nervous that the club was headed toward US Open Cup disappointment for the fifth year in a row. In their first two seasons, NYCFC lost to the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos in the Open Cup. The next two seasons would see NYCFC fall to cross-river rivals New York Red Bulls. This year’s edition didn’t start with much indication that City would be able to get over that Open Cup hump.
Early chances for NYCFC were either saved by North Carolina FC keeper Alex Tambakis, or didn’t even challenge his net, missing the target completely. Although the Boys in Blue dominated the game from the first kick, the lack of goals gave their supporters a long stretch of nervous moments. A fabulous Tambakis fingertip save on a close range chip shot from Jesus Medina was followed up by striker Valentin Castellanos’s attempt ricocheting off the crossbar.
The nerves were exacerbated because – for the second time in their short history – NYCFC was fielding a predominantly-reserve squad. Of the 11 players on the field, only Anton Tinnerholm (out of position at centerback instead of his usual right back) and playmaking midfielder Maxi Moralez are regular starters in league play. The rest of the team was composed of spot starters for injured players, or first-time starters including professional debutante Daniel Bedoya – on the same pitch he called home during his two seasons with St. John’s University.
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) June 13, 2019
The anxious energy would be released in the 25th minute. NYCFC moved the ball through the midfield, opening up Castellanos, who moved the ball out wide to the often-overlapping left back Tony Rocha. He drove a low cross into the box where both midfielder Keaton Parks Moralez were collapsing. It would be North Carolina’s Aaron Guillen that would ultimately deflect the ball into the far side netting for an own goal.
The next 20 minutes would be more of the same, with North Carolina’s best chances coming from corner kicks while NYCFC continued to dominate possession. North Carolina coach Dave Sarachan could not find a way to allow his team to capitalize on the fact that multiple NYCFC players were in new positions to cover for teammates who are either hurt or on international duty. That was in part because of the strong play of a young trio of NYCFC midfielders in their first starts of the season: Parks, Daniel Bedoya, and homegrown 17-year old Justin Haak. The first half ended with North Carolina losing control of the ball deep in NYCFC territory thanks to the tenacious work of Bedoya and Rocha. Rocha left the ball for Moralez and sprang down the line A simple ball back to Rocha allowed him to look up and spot the run of right winger Jesus Medina. A beautiful curling cross from Rocha would land on Medina’s foot at the top of the box for an easy shot past Tambakis. NYCFC took a 2-0 lead into half time and it seemed that the team from the Bronx was on their way to an easy victory despite the heavy squad rotation.
It was all smiles for NYCFC, as again they held majority possession of the ball and scored two more goals to seal the victory. In the 52nd minute, Medina and Castellanos linked up to possess at the top of Carolina’s box, allowing right back Torres to advance and find space wide. He received the ball and placed a high cross to the back post, where Keaton Parks headed it down and into the net past a lunging Tambakis. Parks added his second goal in the 76th minute, rewarded for a 50-yard sprint when Moralez placed a short pass through the Carolina defense leaving Parks one-on-one with Tambakis. Parks would coolly place the chance in the far corner.
NYCFC head coach Domènec Torrent praised his players for their performance.
“I was happy the players played really well,” the Frenchman said. “I was sure because when I say they deserve to play because they train very very hard every single day. I have confidence with these players. The shame for me, like a coach, is that I have to choose 11, not 18 but every player deserves to play because they have quality.”
“I think a lot of credit goes to training,” Haak said of his ability to integrate into the starting lineup just a week after his professional debut. “We do a lot of passing, a lot of movement with each other, creating chemistry there, but also playing games with the academy a couple of times when I need to get a game in helps me be more prepared for this.”
“We work hard every day in training,” added Parks. “We have a lot of chemistry in the team. We have a lot of good friendships in the locker room and everything. The chemistry is there, it’s just about giving us the opportunity.”
NYCFC advances to the US Open Cup’s Round of 16 for the first time in club history where they will play on the road against D.C. United on June 19. The winner of that game will have a Quarterfinal road game against the winner of Orlando City SC and the New England Revolution.
“It feels great to be part of history like winning the first game for New York City,” Rocha said. “I mean it’s awesome. People are always going to talk about the first one and being a part of it, and it is something that I am going to be able to tell my kids and grandkids about so it is definitely a good feeling.”