On a chilly night in Queens, three month old club Oyster Bay United FC defeated the New York Pancyprian Freedoms, a team with almost five decades of history behind it. Oyster Bay United won 2-0 after extra time and are now one win away from the tournament proper. Goals from Davidson Marseille and Jeison Solano at the end of each of the extra time halves put an end to a chippy 2022 US Open Cup qualifying match at Belson Stadium.
United’s defeat of the three-time US Open Cup champions followed their victory against four-time champion New York Greek Americans in the previous round. The Freedoms advanced after their Second Qualifying Round opponent, New Amsterdam FC II, forfeited the match.
Oyster Bay head coach Josue Esqueche knows these past two wins are huge on their own. But heading into a “Win And You’re In” game next month, his team is already going to play a less experienced side in Westchester United FC.
“They are both great teams with great history,” Esqueche said after the game. “That’s a plus for the team. That’s a plus for the guys. When you have those two matches on your backpack, you’re going to face other teams with lesser history. You are proud because you know that you already handled a big deal. You’re going to be able to face anything.”
With the Freedoms loss, only two 2020 US Open Cup qualifiers are still in-line to requalify for the tournament (Chula Vista FC & Harpos FC).
Ten minutes into the game and it was clear both teams were evenly matched. In the 8th minute, the Freedoms’ James Mulligan was carded for a foul just on the edge of the box, which Oyster’s Joey Sanchez slammed into the defensive wall. On the immediate counter attack, Dillon Woods was carded for a handball when challenging Charlie Ledula on the right side. The subsequent free kick by former pro and current Seton Hall assistant coach Jeff Matteo was also quietly handled by the defense before being skied out.
Yellow cards were a common sight during the game with Oyster Bay accumulating nine and the Freedoms picking up three. It was enough that the Pancyprian staff in the media box questioned how none of the visitors picked up a second card when not many substitutions were being made.
Esqueche put that down to his team’s training. He knows his players want to play professionally or at least advance to a higher level so adapting after getting carded is part of that.
“Part of being professional responsibilities on the field,” he explained. “If you get a card because of a foul, even if it’s not your fault, you have that card, you have to be professional enough to handle it.
“I’m not going to change every player on the field because of a yellow card. They have to be responsible enough knowing that when they have a card, they have to be more cautious when they go into a player.”
That didn’t really matter to the 46 people in attendance though who were mostly in favor of the visitors from Long Island. New York had more chances offensively but Oyster Bay looked more organized for the most part. That did lead to some moments where the visitors over-pressed leaving open space for Pancyprian to try and attack 2-on-1, with the saving grace being Ledula struggling to make plays up top. The half ended with the former New York Cosmos player getting a near breakaway but shooting high over the net.
In the second half, the home side came out in a completely different shape. United had playback as the historic side shot on goal multiple times with keeper Jean Perez making multiple clutch saves. The best way the visitors had to try and counter this was physicality and the cards continued to add up in this half especially. The game slowly reverted into a back and forth again.
Oyster Bay’s Sebastian Ruiz stood out as one of his team’s MVPs in the half. The midfielder fluently switched from the left to right side and his speed helped move the ball down field away from the feet of Freedom players. On the other side James Nealis, older brother of New York Red Bulls player Sean Nealis, was one of the best players on the field. The former New York Cosmos player was key in moving the ball and developing plays for his team. He nearly scored a game winner in the latter half of the second period but a great save kept it out.
Late on in the 80th minute, Ledula attempted to challenge Sanchez for the ball in the United end. Whether he tripped over the ball, the OBUFC player’s leg or himself he went down and grabbed his right ankle. It took a few moments before his teammates and team staff could help him off the field.
Esqueche realized that despite Ledula’s slow game on the scoreboard most of the Pancyprian attack was flowing through him. With him off and knowing the game was most likely heading to extra time he could adjust his players around.
“That was a big change for the game,” said Esqueche. “It gave us the space to put some fresh players on that side because (Ledula) was practically their best player. So that way, when he got injured, we were able to put our subs (in), which were fresh.
“(Pancyprian) were all playing in the back and we knew that it was going to be hard to break those lines.”
Just before the final whistle New York’s James Thristino had a chance to end it when he was fed a cross from the right side just outside the goalkeeper box. The pass came fast, he missed, and was cleanly challenged to the ground. The game entered extra time not long after.
In the first 15-minute half, Oyster Bay came out quick and did not allow the home side to get any shots on goal. Ruiz switched sides back to the left and while his acceleration may have slowed after 90-plus minutes, his legs still played a major part. He helped set up two back-to-back attempts on the Freedoms net in the 100th minute, one stopped by a jumping Bernardi in net and the next shot high and wide.
The breaking point came just before the third intermission. A long kick found Marseille charging down the center and for a moment play slowed down as players expected the referee to call offside. The Oyster Bay player kept going and recovered the still bouncing ball with a finish that slid past Bernardi’s right side.
Marseille, a Haitian immigrant who had two surgeries last summer before joining United, knows his team believes in him. While the team is young he knows there’s talent here and showing he deserves to be here means a lot to him. But even with their support he credited the goal to something that’s been with him since he played the game on a dirt field just outside his house.
“This was God’s doing, it has nothing to do with me,” he said after the match. “It’s a lot of work that came into this, but I give this to God because that’s what I believe in. And that’s all I can say.”
In the second extra time half, United shot wide of the net twice in the first two minutes but the game settled into a back and forth again. The middle of the field saw the most action and Oyster Bay attempted to slow the game down. Emotions boiled over in the 120th minute when Luis Altuve took down Andreas Iosifidis and players from both teams began shoving and exchanging words. Eventually New York players crowded around the match official after they felt he wasn’t punishing United enough for their rough play. Both Iosifidis and Altuve were carded.
By the time Solano slipped in the game sealer in the third minute of stoppage time, as Bernardi played up leaving the net empty, the home side was completely demoralized and the final result felt more like a formality.
Heading into the next match against a fellow United Premier Soccer League side Marseille and Esqueche both know their team has a big advantage thanks to all the support the young group has. With people coming from across Oyster Bay and beyond to support it’s something both know they can’t replace and both are truly grateful for it.
“From somebody that didn’t really have support going up this is very ideal for us,” Marseille said. “Without fans, without support in life, you can’t really go forward. God can only do so much, but he’s gonna do his part and people that are around you as friends and family, those are what pull you through sometimes.”
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