On a lovely, 53-degree night in Boone, N.C., the NPSL’s Appalachian FC hosted veteran USL League Two side, North Carolina Fusion U-23s in a First Round US Open Cup contest. Despite playing the majority of the match with a man advantage, AFC would see a 2-0 lead disappear and the match would end up in a penalty kick shootout. After a 2-2 draw, Appalachia would win the shootout to advance in its first US Open Cup game, against a team with 28 tournament games on its resume.
The debutantes would advance to the Second Round and a date with Charlotte Independence (USL League One) on April 5.
Cuts like a ???? @AppalachianFc‘s debut in the @opencup produces a goal in under a minute thanks to Camden Holbrook.— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) March 22, 2023
1-0 | #USOC2023
B/R App » https://t.co/OhYMVwRoVy
B/R YouTube » https://t.co/GsjHCSeVhU pic.twitter.com/t4UEB2h2R4
Appalachian FC, wasted no time in opening their Open Cup scoring account. Carson Dinger found Camden Holbrook after just 45 seconds to take the lead.
After a long build up from the back, a booming 40-yard, cross field ball was settled by Dinger who found Holbrook running in the center forward channel. Holbrook chipped a clean shot between opponents for Appalachia’s first Open Cup goal. Dinger would remain active force at both ends throughout the first half.
The Fusion did eventually grow into the game. Their first real attempt on goal coming in the 9th minute. Both sides had had only a few practice sessions together before this game, and the rust showed at times. There were good build ups in both directions for the next 20 minutes until Kevin de Lange found Camden Holbrook for his second tally in the 32nd minute.
London Williams picked up a loose ball in the midfield and charged down the right-hand side. He crossed through the penalty area behind a couple of teammates, when de Lange hit the brakes, turned and laid a perfect ball to the feet of an onrushing Holbrook. He would then fire low to the keeper’s left for a 2-0 lead.
From there the game was on. Just a few minutes later, a header by Juan “Juancho” Fernandez would cut the deficit in half. Fred Ferreira would have his run stopped in the right side of the box. What looked like a routine clearance was deflect by a Fusion player and the ball fell to the foot of Sam Bethell, who sent a powerful cross to the top of the goal area when an unmarked Juancho headed home to pull a goal back for the visitors.
In the 40th minute, the game changed when Brian Torre was shown a straight red card for a aggressive challenge leaving the Fusion down a man before halftime.
Despite being down a man, Juancho nearly equalized on a volley in the third minute of stoppage time.
NC Fusion went into halftime with a slight edge in possession. Appalachian were better with shots; two goals/shots on goal from their four chances compared to one goal/shot on goal from six chances.
The second half began with the Fusion showing some fatigue. They still had chances, but they were not as creative as in the first half. The home team had the first shot of the half in the 48th, but it was smothered by Adam Forster. Juancho and Fred Ferreira were a perpetual thorn in the sides of the Appalachian defense. The first half of the second half was a grudge match going back and forth. Good possession in the middle, but not many decent chances coming from it.
In the 77th minute, Tererai Chawira brought down Dave Neijenhuis at the top of the penalty arc from a corner kick. The resulting free kick was right footed into the upper 90 by Fred Ferriera to bring the scores level.
Despite the man advantage, Appalachian seems to be slower to most balls. The Fusion had the better ideas but couldn’t convert. Neither side looked 90 minutes fit.
In the first half of extra time, good chances were had by both teams, but Appalachian had more of them. Nearly a potential winner less than a minute in. Despite this, Appalachian looked the more tired of the sides despite a man advantage for 50 minutes. Both sides pushed for a go-ahead goal. Both came up short.
In the second half, NC Fusion’s Adam Burchell’s night would end suddenly on second yellow in the 116th minute on what most would consider a ridiculous reason. An Appalachian attack was shut down on a save which led to a clearance into touch. Burchell ran to the ball kid, got the ball, and ran away from the point of the throw-in with it, thus delaying a restart. His tomfoolery earned him a second yellow and an early trip to the dressing room. Appalachian FC, however, were unable to mount a meaningful attack with a two-man advantage for the last five minutes.
The penalty kick shootout was as short as you could possibly get. The first three Fusion attempts were missed; two of them over the bar, and the other hit the crossbar. The first three attempts by AFC were scored by Landau, Arguelo and de Lange to give the home team a 3-0 win.
It was just the fourth time in the Modern Era (1995-present) that a PK shootout finished with the score 3-0. It was also just the fifth time that a team missed three attempts in a single shootout, but it was the first time that all three misses resulted in a 3-0 scoreline.
With the shootout win, a “squatchy” Cinderella may have begun.
NCF Neijenhuis (Miss – high) 0-0
APP Landau (Goal) 0-1
NCF Leray (Miss – high) 0-1
APP Arguelo (Goal) 0-2
NCF Bethell (Miss – crossbar) 0-2
APP de Lange (Goal) 0-3