The volt-colored brick road is making its way to Kansas City, as Union Omaha continued their fantastical run in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, upsetting Minnesota United 2-1 at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.
Joseph Brito’s Sportscenter-worthy goal just after halfitme put Omaha in front and their defense would hold strong to preserve the one-goal league until the final whistle.
It was an historic win by Omaha as they become the first Nebraska club in the history of the US Open Cup to reach the Quarterfinals. They also become the first third division professional team to reach the Round of Eight since 2013 (Orlando City SC of USL Pro).
Omaha will try to keep their Cinderella run going as they travel to Kansas where they will face four-time Open Cup champion Sporting Kansas City the week of June 21-22.
Under a gray sky, with patches of misty rain falling throughout the entire day leading up to the kickoff, Alliaz Field wasn’t exactly the most hospitable location on the day, much like the previous round of the US Open Cup. Temperatures at kickoff were in the 50s and paired with 94% humidity. The conditions didn’t stop fans from both clubs attending the match, let alone dampening their spirited encouragement for their favorite.
Minnesota United started off the match with quality possessions, moving the ball freely across the field to size up their opponent. There were several moments, even inside the first handful of minutes, where the players would set up triangles, draw in the opposition, and quickly find a player in open space far across the field. The players sensed Union Omaha’s initial defensive imbalance. Seeing the Owls move their players into a small area of space on one side of the field, suddenly a Minnesota United player on the opposite side of the field, often relegated to a defensive position, would suddenly sprint toward the open pasture and make themselves available for the pass. In just the sixth minute of play, the Loons did exactly that and punished Union Omaha greatly.
In just the sixth minute of play, Minnesota United chased down an errant cross and set up another offensive opportunity on the left side of the field. With one Union Omaha player drawn out of the penalty area, Minnesota United floated two more players toward the ball.
One of those players in pursuit was left midfielder Franco Fragapane. While exercising great situational awareness, he took advantage of Union Omaha’s lackadaisical marking, slipped by the defense, and received a very nicely-placed one-touch thru ball. After his first touch kept the ball in play along the goal line, he was able to use his second touch to find one the club’s designated players, Adrien Hunou, open in the box and ready for the one-touch finish. Union Omaha goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu wasn’t able to get himself to the ground quick enough to make the save and Minnesota United took the early lead.
Despite being down a goal early in the match, Union Omaha never seemed to lose faith in each other. Minnesota United was able to continue their extended bouts of success throughout much of the first half, but displayed subtle hints that they might be susceptible to a quickly-developing attack, aka Union Omaha’s specialty. Case in point: the first minute of extra time of the first half.
During a goal kick from Nuhu, the ball was descending near the midline, where Union Omaha center midfielder JP Scearce was waiting uncontested. Instead of dropping the ball to a teammates feet and playing out of the back, Scearce let the ball skip off his head and jumpstart a race toward the goal line. Hugo Kametani, the speedy forward for the Owls, maintained his composure in the midst of a physical challenge, and slotted the ball low and inside the near post. The goal was his third of the season, across all competitions. With the score line level after the halftime whistle, the mood among one side of Allianz Field was gloomier than the dreary clouds above. The other side was filled with cautious optimism. Could it happen again? Can lightning truly strike twice?
Not to be out done by Minnesota United’s 6th minute goal in the first half, Union Omaha decided to return the favor: a goal inside six minutes of the second half. In the 51st minute, Union Omaha captain Conor Doyle intercepted a pass and immediately looked to pass the ball back into pressure and catch the defense off guard. The pass found its way to the right flank and was crossed into the box, but poorly cleared by the Minnesota United defense. As the ball fell back into the confines of the penalty area, Joe Brito was there to settle the ball with his chest before throttling the ball into the upper corner at the near post. Minnesota United goalkeeper Eric Dick’s reach and reaction time were both lacking and Union Omaha would carry the goal, and subsequent victory, across the finish line.
“Firstly, take your hats off to them,” said Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said after the match. “ looked like they wanted it more today, which is a poor reflection of us. You know, we had plenty of chances and plenty of possession, but with the attacking team that we had out , not to have scored more than one goal with the opportunities in the final third, it’s a little bit strange.”
With regards to the chances and possession, he wasn’t wrong. Minnesota United led in nearly every single offensive statistical category. They nearly tripled the amount of passes that Union Omaha had in the match (615-223). Even the amount of successful dribbles was nearly double that of Union Omaha (8-5).
When asked about the on-field leadership during the match, Heath simply stated, “I’ve got two DPs on the field and three internationals on the field. Some guys have played 150 games in the MLS. should be more than enough to win the game.”
In regards to the preparation leading up to the match, Heath acknowledged his own personal experience of working with Union Omaha assistant coach Bobby Murphy:
“I knew what was coming. I know their two coaches really well. The assistant, Bobby Murphy, worked with me for 6-7 years. I knew they would be well organized. I knew they would be highly motivated.”
Having been knocked out of the US Open Cup, last year’s runner-up Minnesota United must turn all of their focus toward league play. Unfortunately for them, reigning MLS champion, New York City FC, pay a visit to Allianz Field on Saturday night.
While they try to figure out their next mode of transportation to Kansas City, be it flying monkeys, tornados, or the previously-stated volt-colored brick roads, Union Omaha must turn their attention to league play, as well. For just the second time this season, the Owls will have a league match at home. On Saturday evening, Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC returns to Omaha mere weeks after having been knocked out of the US Open Cup in the same city.
Union Omaha’s victory was a historic milestone for the state of Nebraska and the US Open Cup: for the first time in the 107-year history of the US Open Cup, Union Omaha becomes the first soccer club from the state of Nebraska to reach the Quarterfinals. Also, this is the first appearance from a third-division soccer club in the Quarterfinals since USL Pro-side Orlando City did it back in 2013…managed by none other than Adrian Heath.