The California United Strikers stopped FC Tucson from making club history with a 2-1 comeback win after a stoppage time goal to avoid overtime and advance to the next round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
In his debut for Cal United, Ryotaro Kawashima made his presence known and scored what would end up being the game winner. Both of Cal United’s goals came in the second half.
National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) side Cal United got things started in the match and quickly ripped two shots off but was unable to get them past FC Tucson keeper Carlos Merancio. FC Tucson responded and made their way down the field into Cal United’s defensive third.
In the 17th minute, midfielder Burke Fahling settled the ball and made a quick touch pass to Gio Calixtro who worked his way around two defenders and shot the ball between them from outside the box to give FC Tucson a 1-0 lead.
Cal United threatened to score, winning possession in the first half but was unable to convert any attempts, taking six shots with only two being on goal. They were able to keep the game within reach by not allowing another goal and heading into halftime down 1-0.
🕔 Late Drama at the back post!
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) April 20, 2022
“We were disappointed at halftime. I thought we played a really good 35 minutes in the first half, we gave up what we thought was a pretty soft goal. And the guys were a little down, I ain’t gonna lie to you, at halftime. It was frustrating,” Cal United head coach Don Ebert said.
In the second half things fell apart for FC Tucson after their strong start. To open the second half they were aggressive, getting shots off early but were not able to score and struggled near and inside the box only getting two more shots on goal.
Cal United continued to fight and were rewarded for the effort late in the 71st minute. Defender Brady Treinen got possession of the ball near the FC Tucson goal and passed the ball all the way down the field where leading scorer Omar Nuño settled it and slotted the ball past Merancio on the opposite side of the goal to equalize the game at 1-1.
“We haven’t been scoring a lot of goals. So that weighs on you … Omar, when he turned and scored that I could see a whole different team,” Ebert said.
The game remained tied heading into stoppage time after an FC Tucson shot went out past the left side of the goalpost in the 84th minute after it seeming like they had found the goal they were looking for.
Every sign was pointing to the game going into overtime as there were only three minutes of stoppage time added. That all changed with Kawashima who was making his first appearance with Cal United. Kawashima grabbed the loose ball from a cross, took a dribble and shot it past a defender and the goalkeeper to take the lead in the 92nd minute. That goal would seal the game for the Strikers to complete the comeback performance.
“That kid just joined us and for him to make his first start, that was his first game with us after a couple of weeks of training so for him to get that goal, proud of him. They’re happy group right now for sure,” Ebert said.
Cal United now advances to the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup, becoming the only NISA team to advance to the round of 32.
“I see a much different team than I saw three weeks ago, where I just told the guys we’re about 70% as far as our overall team speed, fitness, ability to press, counter press, play 90 minutes, but we’re getting there. And listen, there’s nothing like winning, my jobs a lot easier when those guys have confidence and they’re happy,” Ebert said.