The shine from the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup trophy finally glowed on the state of Nebraska, as Union Omaha hosted the first ever tournament match within state borders. The evening lived up to the hype and saw two defending champions face off, with the hosts Union Omaha prevailing at the final whistle by a score of 2-1.
The Des Moines Menace, current USL League Two champions, entered the evening having already experienced victory in this year’s tournament. In the first round, the Menace defeated Minneapolis City SC 4-2. On Tuesday night, the club looked to extend their regional dominance with a win over Union Omaha. Leading up to the match, Des Moines opted to sign 31 year-old veteran Corey Hertzog. His addition to the squad paid off well during his time on the field, especially in the early stages of the match.
Des Moines’s defense was tested early by a series of long balls from Union Omaha, but the backline was able to quell the early threats. Center defender Kareem Riley had a great play in the 10th minute, floating across the field to cover the perimeter of the penalty area. He was able to stifle a well-developed attack from Union Omaha’s JP Scearce and keep the scoreline empty. With every Union Omaha attack, Des Moines would look to counter through link-up play, often featuring previously-mentioned Hertzog. The build-up play resulted in an early lead for club.
? We’ve got allllll the good angles of last night’s goal, our first ever in cup action!
— ⭐️ Union Omaha (@Union_Omaha) April 6, 2022
In the 14th minute of play, Des Moines was able to carry the ball into Union Omaha’s half and threaten the final third. Neville Morgan found space along the left flank and served the ball into the box. After a short battle for the ball, Ryley Kraft showed great composure to find Gabi Rodriguez at the top of the box. Rodriguez placed a very dangerous shot on goal, bouncing off the crossbar, deflecting off of Union Omaha goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu, and crossing the goal line for a split second, which was all it took to earn the goal and the early lead.
There was some debate as to whether or not the subsequent finish from Corey Hertzog was the actual goal, but the match officials ultimately awarded the goal to Gabi Rodriguez. The celebrations were short-lived, as Union Omaha wasted little time in returning the favor.
In the 19th minute, Union Omaha earned a corner kick. Joseph Brito, playing in his first professional match, took the corner kick and placed it directly where JP Scearce was waiting to head the ball inside the near post. The equalizer was the first goal for Union Omaha in the US Open Cup tournament. Having been established in 2019, the club qualified for the Open Cup in 2020 and 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Owls from taking the field. The momentous goal was not lost on the fans, as cheers erupted from all sides of the field.
The rest of the first half showed both clubs settling into their rhythm. The first 30 minutes of the match consisted of a lot of fast runs, balls served over the top, and trying to expose the backline. In the remaining 15 minutes, both clubs seemed to show more comfort in bringing the ball to the ground, establishing possession, and using their creativity to test their opposition. The halftime whistle blew and the score was still level at 1-1, but the aura of the tournament kept spirits high, especially the contingent of Des Moines fans who made the trip to Morrison Stadium in downtown Omaha.
The fans returned to their seats with bellies full of concessions, ready to watch the drama of the second half unfold. Union Omaha opened the second half with more possession and showed no signs of letting their foot off the gas from their typical high-press, direct offense. With every attack the Owls levied against the Menace, goalkeeper Grant Makela cemented himself on the goal line and deflected shot after shot. Makela showed quick reflexes on multiple occasions and continued to make key saves as the match progressed. The Menace goalkeeper didn’t feature in the first round of the tournament, but he definitely shined in the second round.
The Des Moines defense was routinely tested, bending to Union Omaha’s attacks, but not breaking. It wasn’t until the 81st minute, when a fluke play occurred, which would decide the full-time score line. After Union Omaha captain Conor Doyle received a pass just outside the box, left of center, he sent a soft lob into the box. Menace defender Alfeu Bertani connected on the other end of the lob, but wasn’t able to redirect it clear of goal. His header ended up sending the ball past his goalkeeper and into his own goal.
With ten minutes, plus stoppage time remaining, the Des Moines Menace scrambled to generate any and all offense in Union Omaha’s half. The Menace was able to put together a couple of opportunities, but nothing that would level the score line. The center ref eventually looked at his watch, blew the whistle, and ended the match. Although the match was decided by an own goal, but clubs demonstrated why they are currently the defending champions of their respective leagues.
In the post-match interview, Union Omaha manager Jay Mims complimented “a great atmosphere” in Morrison Stadium at Creighton University, as well Des Moines for “putting together a great team and a great fight. They were a worthy opponent.”
The Des Moines Menace open their USL League Two title defense against Minneapolis City SC on Sunday, May 8 in Minneapolis.
Union Omaha will find out the details of their next appearance in the US Open Cup on Friday, April 8 when the Third Round of the tournament is drawn. The Owls also kick off their USL League One title defense against Forward Madison on the road on Saturday, April 9.