Azteca FC hosted Harpos FC at Victoria Sports Park in their third all-time meeting in a “Win & You’re In” US Open Cup qualifying match. In the previous two meetings, Azteca came away winners by a single goal (2-1 in 2017, 4-3 in 2018).
Sunday would be no exception as Azteca came back to beat fellow Colorado Super League side Harpos FC, 4-3, though an extra 30 minutes were required to settle it. The crowd of about 120 were thoroughly entertained in Golden, Colo.
Folks had barely turned their attention to the game, when Max Steinmetz had the ball land at his feet. He streaked in at goal and slotted home to his left to put Harpos in front after just four minutes.
After this point, the game was played in Harpos’ half for nearly the remainder of the first half. Azteca turned up the heat. Jovany Herrera and Freddy Fragozo combined all over the field in an attempt to level the score with Fragozo putting a shot off the post in the 14th minute.
Harpos would create some breathing room in the 20th minute when Austin Bell grabbed a deflection off an Azteca defender and made it a 2-0 game. Two goals in as many entries into the Azteca penalty area – it seemed like a rout was developing.
Azteca’s Rosendo Castro would see yellow in the 24th minute as he brought down Harpos’ Sean Baumann at midfield. Shortly after that, the momentum would shift again. Azteca’s defense stepped up and began building from the back. Goalscorer Bell would be booked in the 33rd minute after bringing down Fragozo. The resulting free kick would be bobbled by Harpos’ goalkeeper Hayden Rus, but the second ball was sent wide.
After a few minutes of chippy play, and a foul against Jovany Herrera, led to an Azteca free kick at the top of the penalty area. Cesar Echegaray buried the 20-yard free kick to cut the deficit in half in the 37th minute.
Five minutes later, the ball took an awkward bounce into the hand of Harpos’ defender Patrick Slogic in the area, and a penalty kick was awarded. Eduardo Reza sent the spot kick straight up the middle and it was saved by Rus, keeping Harpos in front going into the halftime break. Azteca would have one of many corners on the day in the second minute of first half stoppage time after Herrera was fouled again. Cesar Echegaray attempted to get his second of the contest, but the kick deflected off the wall and wide of goal to end the first half.
The second half started as fast as the first, this time with Azteca at the wheel. Still in the 46th minute, Eduardo Reza would be the player streaking right at goal and bury the shot to level the score.
Azteca had a relentless attack for the next 15 minutes, registering three shots in the process. Harpos’ first break from the onslaught was Caleb Cole unable to convert a free kick at the top of the penalty area. Harpos would register a pair of shots, both saved, over the next six minutes.
Then it was back to the other end. Jovany Herrera was fouled again, Harpos’ Jake Taylor was booked, and Azteca’s Armando Gonzalez would sink another 20-yard free kick to put Azteca in the lead, 3-2 in the 68th minute. Azteca’s Herrera and Eric Hernandez would take turns shooting for the next 10 minutes, missing just wide of goal each time.
At about the 80-minute mark, Harpos found a fresh wind in their sails and began a constant attack to end the second half. The highlight of this was a long Caleb Cole cross finding the head of Austin Bell, for his second goal, about eight yards out to level the score at 3-3.
Harpos nearly stole a late winner in second minute of stoppage time after a shot by Juan Pablo Caffa was deflected off an Azteca wall, toward the far post. Regulation would end with the score tied.
Extra time began with both teams pushing hard for the victory. Both sides had traded shots after just three minutes. Azteca would retake the lead in the 100th minute when Cesar Meza received a long diagonal cross after a long run, chipping the ball around the Harpos’ keeper and it ended up just inside the back post.
Azteca would get the scare of the game in the 104th minute when a Juan Pablo Caffa pass led to a Caleb Cole shot that was nearly turned into their own goal. Only a quick reflex save by Marcos Madera kept the score 4-3.
The second period of extra time started with a Harpos shot after about 15 seconds, and they would boss the game comprehensively in these 15 minutes. Caffa, Cole and Slogic all had shots in the final few minutes; Slogic nearly beating Madera at the post with a headed effort in the 112th minute. The final big chance for Harpos was in the 116th minute as Cole sent a long diagonal ball between the goal and an on-running Juan Pablo Caffa. Azteca looked for an insurance goal in the final minute, Oscar Montoya hitting the outside of the post and Herrera making a goal line run, but Rus saved his shot. Moments later, the final whistle sounded. Azteca keep a perfect record against Harpos in Open Cup qualifying with the 4-3 win.
“These are always good games, have a great team,” said Azteca head coach Andy De La Rosa. “Good thing our guys stepped up, we did what we had to do.”
“We knew it would be a battle, it always is,” said Harpos FC coach Johnny Freeston, who led his team to US Open Cup berths in 2015 and 2016. “We did what we needed to in the first half. Felt good about that, and then we got tired. We made mistakes and we got punished for our mistakes.”