Flower City Union made history in a number of ways on Wednesday in a 1-0 extra time victory over the Western Mass Pioneers at Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Mass.
Not only was this Flower City’s first ever win in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup — it was also the first ever victory in the young franchise’s history. The team — based out of Rochester, New York —was founded in 2021 and began play just this spring in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).
The game remained goalless until a left-footed strike by Captain Lukas Fernandes in the first half of extra time propelled Flower City into the lead. They would hold onto their one goal lead until the final whistle, despite going a man down in the 110th minute of the game when defender Marcus Micheletti received a red card.
Head coach Zach Agliata — one of the youngest coaches in professional soccer at age 29 — was thrilled with his team’s performance, despite the caginess of the game.
“It was beautiful. It was ugly, but we got it done,” Agliata said following the game, “They fought. That’s what matters. It was awesome.”
The Pioneers came out strong in the first half, and had a number of chances early. In the 9th minute, a cross into the box by Gabriel Ganzer fell perfectly for Anthony Basile, but he lost his footing and slipped without making contact with the ball. Pioneers head coach Federico Molinari appeared frustrated with his squad as they failed to finish a number of early chances.
In the second half, the Pioneers again missed an opportunity to take the lead in the 55th minute when a corner kick was crossed into the box by Tyler Carlos — Benjamin Brewster headed the ball to Federico Gurierrez Losada, whose own header sent the ball just wide of the left post.
Flower City had just three shots on target heading into the 70th minute, with Western Mass continuing to press forward. Flower City goalkeeper Maykell Ortega Campos was tested a number of times, including by a header by Justin Frietas in the 79th minute that nearly found the back of the net.
Flower City quickly found their footing following the start of extra time. In the 94th minute, a short looping pass from Alex Ainscough found the captain Lukas Fernandes, who curled the ball into the top corner with his left foot, netting the franchise’s first goal in US Open Cup history, and only the second goal in the history of the club.
“It feels awesome. I’m just happy we got the win,” said Fernandes, who grew up in Rochester. “We’ve been through a lot in the past couple months being a brand new organization. To get the first win in franchise history is amazing.”
It appeared that the win may be in jeopardy in the 110th minute, when Flower City Union defender Marcus Micheletti appeared to deliberately step on a prone Western Mass Pioneer player in the aftermath of a corner kick. The head official spotted the infraction and showed Micheletti a red card, leaving Flower City down a man for the final ten minutes of extra time. However, Western Mass failed to capitalize on the advantage despite a wild attacking sequence in the final minute and Flower City hung on for their first ever win.
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) April 7, 2022
Agliata was quick to praise the Pioneers for their determination following the match.
“They fought so much harder than we thought,” Agliata said. “Full credit to them, it was a much tougher game than we expected.”
Fernandes had similar praise for their opponents regarding Western Mass.
“They’re an opponent with a lot of history. They’ve done well for a number of years now,” said Fernandes. “This is my first time in the stadium, the atmosphere is great.”
Fernandes also felt the pressure to step up for his new hometown club.
“I felt the need with the armband and being a Rochester guy to put my stamp on the game.”
Flower City United will now move on to the Third Round of the US Open Cup, where it’s possible they will be drawn against a Major League Soccer side. Agilata relishes such an opportunity.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Agalita of the chance to play against a top division team, “That’s what you want, to compete against the very best in the country.”