A 1,500-mile trip, some biting wind, and a valiant display from the home side was not enough to stop FC Maritsa from earning a win on penalties against IASC Boom on Sunday night in Rochester.
The side from St. Louis woke up in the early hours of the morning to start their travels to the Empire State and dug deep to find the energy to hold on through 120 minutes of action. Player/coach Lucas Almeida buried the winning penalty to seal Maritsa’s advance to the next round of 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup qualifying.
Sunday’s hosts, IASC Boom, are an amalgamation of the Roc City Boom squad that competes in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) and a long-standing community team called Italian American Sports Club. The team earned its place in qualification through the local Rochester District Soccer League, and defeated Pittsburgh City United FC 4-0 in last month’s Second Qualifying Round.
Maritsa also fields a team in the UPSL but entered through its local league, Metro East Football Association. FC Maritsa’s opponents in the previous round, Lexington Landsharks from Kentucky, forfeited last month’s match.
Boom had a penalty shout 15 minutes into the match when Whitman Hernandez went to ground after a tangle with Maritsa’s William Stimac but the match official waved away Rochester’s protests.
Maritsa forward Edin Campara did well to apply pressure to IASC Boom’s backline and goalkeeper in the first half, which struggled to deal with balls in the air as the wind affected play.
The visitors had their own claim for a penalty in the 31st minute when Campara received the ball from a long throw and tried to chip it back to himself for a shooting chance. Boom’s energetic central defender Robert Williamson stepped in to win the ball with his chest but Maritsa players shouted that it hit Williamson’s arm in the process. The referee was unimpressed again.
Maritsa had a clear-cut chance in first half stoppage time when IASC Boom goalkeeper Connor Halsted came off his line but missed an attempted punch. A headed effort by the visitors was cleared off the line by Williamson and the half ended scoreless.
Boom had a chance from a set piece after Maritsa’s Mike Scharf was called for a foul on Nick Tata. Dom Francis lined up the free kick for the home team from about 35 yards and shot just wide of the near post in the 59th minute.
Just five minutes later, Maritsa capitalized on some sloppy touches from IASC Boom to take the lead. Center back Jacob Schindler partially cleared an attempted through ball by the visitors but his teammate Mwalizi Mutambo, who was otherwise solid in midfield for Boom, lost a duel to Connor Woulahan. Maritsa’s Woulahan fed the ball forward to Campara, who isolated Schindler on the dribble before pinging a cross to the far post to find his teammate Vadim Cojocov. Cojocov nodded the ball past a diving Halsted to put the team from St. Louis ahead in the 64th minute.
“In the midfield Connor put in a good tackle, anticipated the play and found Edin with a good ball,” Almeida said about the goal sequence. “Edin did well and then crossed to the back post where Vadim was making a run and got a great header in, made good contact, and put it in the net. It was a beautiful goal from a good pressure.”
After conceding, Boom head coach Marc Mandell quickly made two attacking substitution to change the complexion of the game. The match settled into a siege mentality in the final 15 minutes with Maritsa conceding space and committing fouls but Boom were unable to find an equalizer. Francis delivered service on several deep free kicks that found the first Rochester player in the penalty area but that Maritsa’s defenders were able to clear.
In second half stoppage time, Francis sent in another free kick from the inside left channel and Boom substitute Ali Shawish rose highest in the crowd to knot the match at 1-1 with seconds left.
Mandell recognized his team was off the pace at the start but credited the spirit of his players to force extra time.
“The first half we hung in there and stuck in there, they got the goal. But to fight back and we had the guys fight back and actually put a goal in 90 minutes plus, in stoppage time, it shows the determination and grit that we have with this team.”
Extra time continued with the home team on the front foot but Maritsa showed flashes on the counterattack. At the end of two 15-minute periods the score remained 1-1 and the teams lined up for kicks from the spot.
FC Maritsa won the right to shoot first and made that count. The first four kick-takers for each team converted before Lucas Almeida stepped up for his team’s fifth. The veteran for Maritsa blasted it over the keeper’s arms to score. Schindler lined up a one-step run up and goalkeeper Ethan Cowell saved the attempt for the win.
After the final whistle, IASC Boom’s Mandell was full of praise for his players despite the result. “Not training for a whole month and guys getting together to just play the game, the guys really played well. I can’t ask for more than that. Short time, trying to get everybody in. I’m proud of them.”
Almeida detailed that Maritsa’s travel schedule began before dawn in Saint Louis.
“Man, it was so long. We started at 4:45 a.m., we were at the airport. Flew to Atlanta, got a connection there flew to Buffalo, waited there, got a car there and drove straight to the arena. We haven’t been to the hotel, we haven’t done anything. It’s been a very, very long day, but a very fulfilling one.”
“It adds to the excitement. We know every game at this level is going to be a competitive game,” the player/coach said. “We expect it to be a hard one, and the possibility of going 120 minutes and penalties.”
Maritsa advance to the next round of US Open Cup qualifying where they will try to better their 2019 showing and move on to the tournament proper for the first time.