Harpos FC, fresh off a run of 12 straight victories in league play, including a 10-0 record in the spring season, defeated FC Union Jerez by a score of 1-0 in the first meeting between the two teams in a US Open Cup qualifier. The match at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park facility was the first time the two teams have played since the Colorado Super League semifinal last June (which Harpos won 4-2).
The Denver-based Harpos FC has entered the Open Division Local qualifying tournament every year since it began in 2016, while punching their ticket twice in 2016 and 2020 (the 2020 US Open Cup was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The team also qualified for the 2015 tournament through association play. This was Union Jerez’s third attempt at qualification (2018, 2020).
The first few minutes, kicked off to a sunset backdrop in Commerce City, CO, belonged to the home side with Union Jerez barely touching the ball. However, the 10th minute would see starting goalkeeper Jacob Lissek collide with Jerez’s Marco Antonio Ochoa Gutierrez, Jr. with the latter’s team being awarded a penalty kick. The collision required backup Hayden Rus to be put into service and immediately be tested. After the injury delay Union’s Bryan Fuentes would finally take the ensuing penalty in the 14th minute, but Rus saved to his right to keep it scoreless.
Lissek was knocked out cold from the impact. Harpo’s general manager Johnny Freeston said on the sideline he was clearly in distress and was eventually taken to the hospital. There’s no update on his status at this time though Freeston believes it was a concussion.
The Harpos’ left side duo of John Lister and Aaron Woodruff would route most of the attack up that side, but the final pass would be lacking for most of the first half. The danger men for Union Jerez were Ochoa Gutierrez, Jr., Alex Govanny, Ortiz Rosales and Bryan Fuentes.
In the 39th minute, a cross from Harpos’ Lister was bobbled and dropped by Jerez keeper Samuel de Jesus Benitez Tovar and an onrushing Cody Stratton tapped in for the lead. The final five minutes of the first half belonged to Union Jerez, but they could not find an equalizer despite several set piece opportunities.
Stratton’s goal came at the right time for multiple reasons. The attacking center midfielder, whose been with Harpos since 2018, lost his father to cancer two weeks ago. He dedicated his first career goal in the competition, and the win, to his father Mike Stratton.
The second half was fast-paced and end-to-end. Union’s Gutierrez and Fuentes each had a couple of strong shots to try and break the clean sheet but were saved. Their teammate Daniel Lopez Rojas had a great free kick sail just wide in the 61st minute. Meanwhile the home side swapped out goal scorer Stratton in the 73rd minute for Edgar Olivas who immediately gave the Union Jerez back line fits.
Both teams found an extra gear in the final ten minutes but there were no more goals to be found. Harpos had a chance to put the game to bed in the 82nd, when a back post shot rolled on the ground for the entire width of the goal and out for a goal kick.
Freeston stated he was happy with the win and says he’s confident that once a few more players receive their international clearances, and the team gains more match fitness, the team will be even better.
“It was a standard US Open Cup game with both sides battling from the first whistle,” said Freeston. “We played well in spells and had some positive sequences. Our goal build up and finish was a moment of class that was needed. We will continue to improve on our fitness, form and fluidity. We enjoy the hard earned win and look forward to the next round in October.”
The victory marked the sixth year in a row that Harpos FC advanced in their opening round qualifier. After receiving a first round bye, Harpos now move on to the third round of qualifying, currently scheduled for Oct. 16-17, against an opponent still to be determined.