In a riveting showdown in the US Open Cup Round of 32, the stage was set for an underdog story as Los Angeles FC clashed with Monterey Bay FC. Against all odds, Monterey Bay entered the match as the favorites, buoyed by their recent victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the previous round. Meanwhile, LAFC found themselves fielding an inexperienced squad, causing fans online to dub their potential triumph as the miraculous “Cupset.”
Amidst speculations about the talent disparity between the two teams, with USL being considered a superior league to MLS Next Pro, LAFC would have to defy expectations and rise above to secure a memorable victory. After Monterey Bay scored a late equalizer to force extra time and took the lead in the extra frame, LAFC’s Matheus Maia would tie the game back up in the 105th minute. The MLS side would survive the shootout 5-4 to advance to the Round of 16 for the fourth time in as many entries.
The action kicked off with Monterey Bay FC riding the wave of energy from their passionate sell-out crowd at Cardinale Stadium. The first 15 minutes saw them earning multiple corner kicks, making their intentions clear.
For LAFC, Erik Dueñas stood out as the only player on the squad who regularly saw minutes in Major League Soccer, albeit as a substitute. But it was the favorites, Monterey Bay, who came closest to breaking the deadlock. A tantalizing indirect free kick found its way to their player, only for the shot to narrowly miss the target, leaving Jakupovic, the LAFC goalkeeper, relieved.
However, it was Los Angeles who struck first, stunning their opponents with a magnificent through ball that sliced through the Monterey defense. In the 24th minute, Cristian Torres displayed the composure of a seasoned MLS veteran, coolly slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. The assist came from Christian Jaime, a Chris to Chris connection that put LAFC ahead.
Taking charge of set pieces for LAFC was Crisostomo, who orchestrated their dead ball situations. Jakupovic, the guardian between the posts, made two crucial saves in the 46th and 63rd minutes, denying Monterey Bay FC the equalizer. The Monterey goalkeeper, Gerold Siaha Ngnepi, also stepped up, pulling off a monumental save to prevent LAFC from extending their lead to 2-0, much to the dismay of the away supporters.
Controversy struck in the 69th minute, when a potential handball incident led to heated chants of “Ref, you suck” echoing through the stadium. The Monterey Bay FC faithful felt aggrieved by the refereeing decisions throughout the match. Momentum swung in their favor when Volesky squandered a glorious opportunity to level the game in the 70th minute, leaving the fans on the edge of their seats.
With the entire stadium pulsating with anticipation, Simon Dawkins orchestrated a sublime attacking move, culminating in a beautifully placed shot finding the back of the net in the 90th minute. Bedlam ensued as the crowd erupted, Cardinale Stadium reverberating with unbridled excitement as the night was not over.
Riding the wave of emotion, Monterey Bay FC delivered a sucker punch at the beginning of extra time, taking a 2-1 lead over LAFC as Maldonado showcased his finishing prowess, converting a one-on-one opportunity against the valiant Jakupovic.
MATHEUS. MAIA. pic.twitter.com/mIB0nj5DHV— LAFC (@LAFC) May 10, 2023
However, LAFC refused to succumb to defeat, sneaking in a goal by Matheus Vinícius Maia Costa de Almeida to equalize and silence the exultant crowd. Penalties would decide the game, and the tension was palpable.
Emulating the bravado of Emi Martinez from the Qatar World Cup, Jakupovic employed all his time-wasting tactics to unnerve the home team and their supporters. The LAFC fan base, who had traveled to support their team, rose to the occasion, creating a raucous atmosphere rarely witnessed from an away section.
In the penalty shootout, Jakupovic’s antics paid off as he successfully blocked two of Monterey Bay’s spot-kicks. The LAFC fans erupted in jubilation, while the hosts were left to rue missed opportunities. Jakupovic emerged as the hero, the embodiment of audacity and mind games.
Steve Cherundolo, LAFC’s coach, faced heavy criticism in the lead-up to the match for fielding what many deemed a disrespectful lineup. Detractors questioned the wisdom of not including any of the regular starters. However, in the end, the youngsters, Steve, and Jakupovic defied the odds on a cold night in Seaside, Calif., clinching victory for LAFC.
A fairy-tale narrative unfolded as the team, primarily comprising LAFC2 players, completed the “Cupset”.