Graphic by Harrison Huntley | @hhuntley17
Mohamed “James” Sesay’s hat trick was the difference as NTX Rayados defeated Celtic Cowboys Premier to qualify for their ninth consecutive Lamar Hunt US Open Cup; a Modern Era (1995-Present) record for an Open Division Local side.
Having scored six goals coming into Saturday night’s showdown, Sesay’s total number of goals scored in qualifying stands at nine, the top goalscoring total of this year’s Open Division Local qualifying tournament.
You’d be hard pressed to find two amateur sides in Texas more worthy of an Open Cup appearance. NTX Rayados’ history of qualifying for the Open Cup is well-documented by now, but this wasn’t the first time these two sides have met. Celtic’s first-ever game in an Open Cup qualifying tournament was at Premier Park in 2016 with NTX gave them a rude welcome to the competition, thumping them 7-0 in front of their home fans. The two met the following year in Austin, but it was the same result: Rayados cruised to a 4-1 win. Both of those games were decidedly less competitive than Saturday’s game at Premier Park, located in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs.
Mohamed “James” Sesay (left) and player/coach Tito Salas of NTX Rayados do a celebration dance after Sesay scored his third goal against Celtic Cowboys Premier in a 2020 US Open Cup qualifier. Photo: Mirco Daniel Mbega Ndoumou | NTX Rayados
Both teams were high on confidence, each having won their Round 2 qualifying game comfortably, but it was NTX Rayados who came out and controlled the game in the first 15 minutes. Right from the start, Sesay ran over, around, and through Celtic’s backline but struggled to test Celtic goalkeeper Muhammed Sule early and the visitors struggled to counter effectively.
But as the first half wore on, Celtic’s target forward Christopher Wright began to slip in behind Rayados’ defense as well and eventually the chances evened out for both sides. Perhaps in an effort to stay warm, both goalkeepers made questionable decisions to come out of their respective boxes at different points, but neither was ultimately punished and halftime came with no goals tallied.
It didn’t take long for things to heat up in the second half. Five minutes out of the break, Rayados had already earned two corners, and the second coming after Sesay hit the crossbar from point blank range. Celtic absorbed the pressure well and moments later looked to have earned a chance in on goal, but the whistle for a foul went against Wright.
It would prove costly as Sesay was through on goal just minutes later and opened the scoring to put the home side up 1-0 in the 55th minute.
Celtic created a couple chances in response but nothing dangerous and Sesay made them pay in the 69th minute with his second; a scintillating run through multiple defenders before splitting Sule’s legs.
Eight minutes later, he got a fortuitous bounce on the edge of the box and made the most of it on the volley to complete his hat trick.
Sesay – whose teammates have taken to calling him “Eto’o”, after retired Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o – has featured for Rayados in previous campaigns, but never as such a focal point of the offense. Still, he’s earned the comparison to the former Barcelona forward and his comfort with the role he’s been asked to play comes through clear on the night.
“I’m happy because this is a normal thing for me: scoring goals.”, said Sesay, who was grinning from ear to ear after the game.
But the success in qualification hasn’t gone to his head and he was quick to heap praise on his team, especially their mental fortitude coming out of halftime at a stalemate despite having created plenty of chances.
Sesay may be having a moment, but his team captain (and player-coach) Tito Salas, was unusually even keeled after the match. Perhaps that’s because Salas has been more or less in charge of NTX Rayados during the entirety of their current nine year run.
“This is really what we were shooting for: being back in the actual Cup.”, Salas said afterwards.
Rayados also won their league title a week ago on the same field and Salas – speaking like a veteran of qualifying for the tournament – says the main thing he told his players was to go home and enjoy the holidays and come prepared for the tournament in the spring. For him – and the club – that’s what counts more than anything.
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