UDA Soccer came out on top of an epic battle of wills, toppling US Open Cup mainstays Azteca FC 4-1 from the penalty mark after trading walloping blows in a 4-4 slugfest.
Keane Garcia pulled UDA level at four in the 113th minute from inside the six-yard box sending the game to kicks from the mark. But the hero of the match was 19-year-old UDA goalkeeper, Mario Castillo, who saved the first (twice) and third of Azteca’s spot kicks to put UDA Soccer through to the tournament proper in its first qualifying attempt.
“I am so proud of the guys for battling through all the adversity they faced today, between the travel and the cold and the altitude and then going down a man, they did not give up, they kept coming back, they kept fighting,” said UDA head coach Blake Ordell. “Then for Mario to make the saves he did in the shootout, it was incredible.”
With the win, UDA Socccer makes some modern US Open Cup history. UDA is a soccer academy at New Mexico State University that allows players to receive year-round training while enrolled at New Mexico State. They become the first Open Division Local team affiliated with a college or university to qualify for the Open Cup in the Modern Era (1995-present). Brigham Young University (BYU) qualified three times as a member of the Premier Development League (now USL League Two) in 2006, 2007 and 2015. Despite past attempts by teams from the University of Florida, Oklahoma University, Louisiana Lafayette, and this year with the University of Southern California (USC), no college-affiliated team has qualified through Open Division Local qualifying.
Despite the unfavorable conditions for the Las Cruces, New Mexico-based UPSL side, and the host’s Open Cup pedigree, having qualified for the tournament proper in 2017, 2018, and 2022, UDA Soccer came out on the front foot, forcing Azteca goalkeeper Gerardo Agular to save brilliantly to his right just four minutes into the match.
Ten minutes later UDA landed the first punch of the day when Jose Luis Puente Rivas spun his defender and played the ball across the top of the six-yard box finding Alan Mose Gudino for an easy tap-in past a helpless Agular.
The lead didn’t last long. Azteca pulled level in the 20th minute when Oscar Montoya tapped Jovany Herrera’s driven cross from just outside the six-yard box.
Azteca took the lead in the 36th minute when Herrera ran onto a ball in the penalty area played by Freddy Fregozo, slotting home his fifth 2023 Open Cup qualifying goal.
UDA clawed back to level just before the halftime whistle when Daniel Ruiz Galan got on the end of a Lucas Burch cross ten yards from the goal as the three minutes of added time expired.
Azteca took the lead in the 63rd minute off a Samual Hallam spot kick after UDA’s Mattias Cavallo was whistled for a tackle at the edge of the penalty area. Hallam calmly slotted the ball to his right past Castillo.
The penalty call, heavily protested by the UDA bench, led to the dismissal of an assistant coach, followed twenty minutes later by the dismissal of captain Eric Gomez-Silva, who was shown his second yellow card of the match, forcing UDA to play a man down for the remainder.
UDA fought back six minutes after going down a man, drawing level at three in the 82nd minute when Alfredo Villescas got on the end of Gudina’s corner, outjumping his marker to put the ball past a stranded Gerardo sending the game to extra time.
Azteca took the lead again in the 107th minute off a spectacular volley from Anthony Miranda after UDA failed to properly clear a corner kick. Azteca recycled the set piece out to Saul Garcia on the left flank whose weighted cross fell into Miranda’s stride.
“We put another forward up top after their fourth goal,” Ordell said. “All we could do was get as many people forward and hope for something.”
That something came when Azteca failed to clear the ball from inside the six-yard box. Garcia slammed the ball home to send the game to kicks.
“Oh man, I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the ball pop out there like that,” Garcia said. “I just hit it as hard as I could. I didn’t want anything to stop it.”
UDA’s Garcia made his attempt. Then Castillo saved Herrera’s attempt to the left, but it was ruled he had left his line early. He then saved Herrera’s second attempt, this time to his right. UDA’s Blake Bastian made his attempt to the right, followed by Azteca’s Miranda.
UDA’s Villescas then made his attempt to the left, followed by Azteca’s Hallam, who had scored from the penalty spot earlier in the match. This time Castillo was up to the task against Hallam, going correctly to his right, leaving it up to Gudina, who calmly put the ball down the middle of the goal to put UDA through to the tournament proper.