Despite a lack of practice and this being their first official game in 2022, the Western Mass Pioneers fended off fellow Massachusetts side Brockton FC United 2-0 in a First Round match at Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Mass., that saw both teams finish with 10 men.
The teams headed into the half goalless — though Brockton was a man down after captain Ruddy Delgado was sent off in the 44th minute for bringing down Pioneers forward Gabriel Ganzer from behind as he broke in on goal alone. Ganzer went on to score the game’s opening goal in the 48th with a powerful header off a distant, looping cross by fellow striker Jacob Mannix.
In the 5th minute of stoppage time, Ganzer returned the favor, delivering a pass across the box that gave Mannix an easy finish to cement the Pioneers’ victory. They’ll return to Lusitano Stadium in two weeks’ time to face NISA side Flower City Union in the second round April 6.
The game got off to a slow start as both teams attempted to feel the other out.
A tackle in the box by Brockton in the 3rd minute led to calls for a penalty from the Western Mass bench, but nothing came of it. Three minutes later, Brockton’s Rick Alves put a shot over the crossbar, one of a few early chances for the visitors. Western Mass goalkeeper Jermaine Fordah made a number of contributions, helping tidy up after several corner kicks by Brockton, and made a diving save to take away a goal in the 29th.
The most impactful moment of the first half came just before the halftime whistle. Western Mass looked to have an open break at goal, only to see Delgado slide in from behind and take down Ganzer. While Delgado was adamant that he got the ball, after a moment of reflection the official showed Delgado the red card and the Bay State Soccer League side were down to 10 men.
“It’s always nice to go against 10 players,” Pioneers coach Federico Molinari said. “I think it put more pressure on us to go and win the game.”
The pressure ended up paying off for the Pioneers, as they found the opener 3 minutes into the second half. Mannix put a looping cross into the box from the far touchline and about 45 yards from goal. Ganzer leaped from around the penalty spot and put his header over the keeper’s reach and under the crossbar to give the USL League Two side a 1-0 lead.
“I knew the center back was going to wait for the ball, so I went first,” Ganzer said of the first goal in his club’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup campaign. “It was a great experience. I am happy for the team. It was a good, hard game.”
A potential opportunity opened for Brockton in the 69th when the Pioneers were also reduced to 10 men. Following a yellow card in the 50th for kicking the ball away following a foul, a rough tackle by Western Mass’ Joshua Calderon led the official to brandish a second yellow, ending Calderon’s night early. In total, six yellow cards were issued in a game that got increasingly physical as the night wore on.
Brockton continued to throw men forward as the game entered the final 10 minutes, with a chance developing in the 83rd following a Pioneers foul at the top of the box. However, the free kick by forward Geo Alves deflected harmlessly off the wall and led to a counter attack.
Western Mass had chances to take advantage of United’s desperation a number of times in the final minutes, with numerous counter attacks eventually leading to Mannix’s stoppage-time goal that sealed the victory. The final whistle came a few minutes later, ending Brockton FC United’s inaugural US Open Cup experience at the first stop. It was also the first US Open Cup win by the Pioneers since 2014, snapping a four-game tournament winless streak.
Molinari was happy with the result, particularly considering the limited amount of preparation time he and his team had for the game.
“We got the players together and they knew what to do. Credit goes to all of them,” he said. “We have two weeks to prepare for the game. Hopefully, we can get healthy and prepare the team for the next round.”