In a scrappy game that ultimately went the full 120 minutes, it was Vereinigung Erzgebirge (VE) who deservedly triumphed 2-0 over the United German Hungarians. Despite looking on top for the majority of the game, it took 100 minutes for the away side to get their first goal and, even then, Sean Fahy’s close range header came only after a chaotic goal-mouth scramble. Sean Peckham would add another late in extra time to give VE two straight wins in the competition for the first time.
VE will host West Chester United in a Third Round match-up on Sunday, Nov. 24 (2:30 p.m. kickoff) as they attempt to qualify for the US Open Cup for the first time since 2002.
Undoubtedly, the conditions did not help either team to play champagne football. Heavy rain in the Philadelphia area saw the match relocated from United German Hungarians’ home ground to the all-weather surface at Bryn Athyn College just hours before kickoff. The combination of wet conditions and synthetic turf saw the ball run very quickly, making gaining control of the ball extremely difficult. Largely as a result of this, at times the match did descend into a midfield skirmish with neither side able to gain a proper hold of the game. Indeed, it could be argued that only one outfield player – VE’s Derek Antonini – was consistently able to control and use the ball and, consequently, he was at the center of much of this game’s drama.
Like most of the rest of the VE team, Antonini, who played as an attacking midfielder, took a few minutes to get into gear as UGH looked more promising in the early minutes. In the first 10 minutes, they controlled possession and the game was being played in VE’s half. Ultimately though they failed to convert this pressure into anything concrete, with Gabriel Dwyer’s edge of the box shot the only half-chance Hungarian’s were able to carve for themselves.
After 10 minutes, the game had begun to settle into the pattern that would, by-and-large, repeat itself for the next hour and a half – disjointed battling for possession in the midfield occasionally punctuated by flashes of quality from Antonini and successions of VE corner-kicks. The first clear glimpse of Antonini’s talents came in the 14th minute as he lashed a shot onto the bar from 30 yards out and standing at 6-foot-4, it was also Antonini who was the target of most VE corners. The first few corners saw UGH ‘keeper Hopf perform well under the high ball however VE’s physical dominance was clear. Indeed, such was the danger Hungarians perceived he and his teammates offered in the air, the home team would often put all 11 men in their own box to defend corners (a tactical decision that deprived UGH of an attacking outlet and facilitated lengthy, multi-corner VE attacks).
It didn’t take long however for Hungarian’s to identify Antonini as the VE dangerman. By the midway point in the first half the 26-year-old was routinely being swarmed by defenders upon receiving the ball. This tactic was partially successful. Antonini himself no longer had the space to play freely but, thanks to his size, control and short passing ability, he was able to exploit the space vacated by the players who had rushed to pressure him. Had his teammates been more able to exploit this space (or take up sufficiently dangerous positions to reduce the pressure on Antonini in the first place) then the VE break-through could have come far earlier. Perhaps the most notable culprit here was right winger Toby Abdul Razaq who, despite looking dangerous, failed to hurt UGH, most frustratingly early in the second half when he squandered three chances in five minutes – significant in a game in which good chances were at such a premium.
Perhaps the biggest talking point from regulation time came in the 35th minute when, in an ill-judged attempt to prove his credentials as a sweeper-keeper, Hungarian’s ‘keeper Hopf (who had an outstanding game for the most part) cleared out, you guessed it, Antonini, 35 yards from goal. Confusion ensued but ultimately Hopf only received a winding for his actions, as opposed to the red card that the VE players and bench were calling for. In truth, the decision could have gone either way. Whilst one Hungarian player’s claim that the ball touched Hopf’s back during the collision, thus making the action legal, was fanciful justification of a bad tackle, the distance of the contact from the goal, relative proximity of UGH defenders and Antonini’s lack of complete control over the ball all added weight to the referees decision. Nevertheless, right decision or wrong, the game remained 11 vs 11 and the score remained 0-0.
Barring the aforementioned chances for Abdul Razaq, the second half passed largely without incident. Hungarian’s strategy was clear – dig in and hope to go through via the lottery of spot-kicks – and VE, whilst superior, looked devoid of the creativity to fashion a clear-cut chance to kill their opposition off. Extra time seemed likely with 20 minutes left of normal time to play and the intensity on the pitch was beginning to flag. VE almost snatched it at the death following an Antonini flick-on however they were once again denied by a flying Hopf save. Apart from that chance, perhaps the most memorable moment of the final quarter of the match was the Hungarian manager’s passionate demands for the punishment of a VE substitute whose socks were the wrong color.
After 10 minutes of extra-time however, the Hungarian defense was finally broken. Once again, it was an Antonini flick on the edge of the box that helped create the space. Once again it looked as if the chance would go begging as three times VE shots were blocked but, eventually, it was bundled home with Sean Fahy getting the final touch from just a yard or two out. It never seemed likely that Hungarian would be able to come back from that blow and when, five minutes later, Adam Bastidas curled a free kick in from just outside the box, the game was all but over.
In some ways, it was a shame that probably the greatest moment of quality in the match had so little consequence compared to the scrappy goal courtesy of a goalkeeper spill that came five minutes before it, however Fahy’s goal was undoubtedly more fitting. VE had been testing Hopf in the Hungarian goal all day and, in the wet conditions, all it was going to take was for the ball to slip invitingly from Hopf’s grasp into the path of a VE player.
When the game clearly came to be dominated by VE, UGH gambled. They gambled that they could pack their box and ride out the storm for 120 minutes, trusting VE didn’t have the quality to create a clear chance when faced with so many defenders. VE, however, also gambled. They gambled that, if they subjected Hopf and the aging Hungarian defense to enough pressure (and a little Antonini flair), eventually they’d crack.
VE’s gamble paid off.