Can a first-year third-division team go on the road in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, give up 16 shots and only put one on frame, and concede 61% of possession against an MLS team?
Hail yeah, they can.
Robert Cornwall scored the only goal of the match in the 70th minute, and Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC stunned Real Salt Lake 1-0 Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 19,301 ticket consumers at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Goalkeeper Thomas Olsen, a former third-round MLS SuperDraft pick by the Colorado Rapids in 2018, made two saves to earn the shutout for Northern Colorado.
The Hailstorm, founded in 2021, did something very few clubs have ever done. Northern Colorado played their first match in club history in the US Open Cup. And what a win it was. The Hailstorm traveled away to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (USL Championship) and beat them 1-0 in extra time on April 6, courtesy of an extra-time winner from Jerry Desdunes. Now, after a draw and a loss on the road to begin league play, they rebound with a dramatic home win over an MLS side.
— Salt City FC (@saltcityfc) April 21, 2022
“This one is even sweeter,” Northern Colorado coach Éamon Zayed said after the match, comparing the RSL win to the Switchbacks upset in Round 2. “So proud of our players tonight. They brought everything, every ounce of effort, every ounce of fight. They were solid, we talked about it, we had a game plan. We wanted to remain compact and hard to break down.”
The Hailstorm won’t win many style points in the club’s Open Cup debut, either against the Switchbacks or RSL. But in the end, they’ll win the only way that matters.
As far as soccer aesthetics go, Wednesday’s match wasn’t much less of an eyesore than before — but the result is all that matters, or at least it was to the Colorado players who rushed the field after the win and the two assistant coaches in the visiting box who hugged and screamed obscenities at the crowd beneath them for most of the nine minutes of stoppage time.
With the loss, Real Salt Lake’s winless streak in the US Open Cup continues, dating back to a 2016 penalty kick shootout win over the now-defunct Wilmington Hammerheads (penalty kick results are officially listed as a draw). With that result going down as a draw, RSL has gone winless in seven-straight matches in Open Cup play — the longest such streak by an MLS club in the Open Cup’s Modern Era. Its five-match home winless streak is the longest active winless skid in the Modern Era, as well.
RSL out-shot the Hailstorm 16-5, but only placed two shots on goal to Colorado’s one — the destined rip into the top shelf by Cornwall that was all the difference with 20 minutes left in regulation. With several RSL players standing around, a couple drawn out of position, and some appealing to the sideline referee for an offside call, the Hailstorm surrounded Cornwall as he ran to the corner flag, hands at his earns, drinking in the boos of the home crowd that was less than the announced attendance number.
“You can do well defensively for 89 minutes, and in that one moment, it can cost you the game,” RSL manager Pablo Mastroeni said. “We’ll go back and look at that.
“But the first half just wasn’t good enough — it wasn’t good enough with the ball and in the attacking third. With these teams who are playing for everything, it’s important to get on the board early. They grew into the game, and the guy scored an otherworldly goal.”
The MLS side, which stretched its winless skid to five matches across all competitions with the loss, also had six shots blocked, and couldn’t convert on eight attempts from the corner flags, were caught offside three times, and lost the number of duels in the outfield, 52-44.
Stats can say a lot of things, but the only one that mattered in the end was this: Hailstorm 1, Real Salt Lake 0.
“I think the game is won and lost inside the boxes,” Mastroeni said. “You’ve got to make defensive plays, and you’ve got to make plays on offense.
“The cohesion of the front group wasn’t there in the first half. When Pablo (Ruiz) came in, it changed that. But you’ve got to have quality in that final third if you want to score goals — and tonight we didn’t have that.”
— Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC (@nocohailstormfc) April 21, 2022
Salt Lake brought back a handful of first-team players from injury — goalkeeper David Ochoa, defender Justen Glad and midfielder Jasper Loffelsend — to pair with a handful of first-team players and even more Real Monarchs and academy players to cobble together a first-choice lineup.
In all, seven RSL players made Open Cup debuts, including Loffelsend, Ochoa, Bode Davis, Bobby Pierre, Pierre Reedy, Chris Garcia and Rubio Rubin as the two sides played to a scoreless first half. Glad came off just after the 60th minute in favor of 17-year-old RSL center back Jaziel Orozco, who was recently called into camp with the United States’ U-20 youth national team beginning Sunday.
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) April 21, 2022
RSL out-shot their lower-division Cinderella group, 8-1 before the break, including the only two shots on goal while holding 52% of possession. But the hosts couldn’t break through, and Cornwall gave Northern Colorado the lead in the 70th minute with a banger underneath the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.
But the final touch wasn’t there. The tactical adjustment in the final third wasn’t there.
Most importantly, the goal — the essence of the sport, in many ways — wasn’t there.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the goal,” Orozco said. “We created some chances, but couldn’t score. I’m disappointed, but we’ve got to move on.”
After becoming just the 16th team in the Modern Era to start a tournament with back-to-back shutout wins, Northern Colorado advances to the Fourth Round where they will travel to take on fellow USL League One side Union Omaha on May 10.