Late drama gives Red Force FC a U.S. Open Cup Victory over FC Kendall

Red Force FC and FC Kendall face off at Tropical Park Stadium in Miami on Sept. 23, 2018. Photo by Drew Housman.

Red Force advanced to the second qualifying round of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup thanks to a last-gasp matchwinner from Marcello Palucci, a strike that gave his side victory over FC Kendall 2-1 after a good 90 minutes of soccer.

After making some noise recently by capturing the APSL title and announcing a move to the UPSL next year it was back to the Open Cup qualifying competition for Red Force. This was the fourth consecutive year they’d appeared at this stage, making the first round proper in 2018 where they were well beaten 4-0 by The Miami FC 2. FC Kendall are no slouches in this tournament either also making the first round where they lost out in a thriller against Miami United, 5-2.

In the past the first couple of qualifying rounds have been a happy hunting ground for both Red Force and FC Kendall. At this stage last year Red Force blew through FC Ginga 8-1 and Kendall thrashed Leu Blacks 11-0. Yet this year they were required to meet in the opening matchup due to the lower number of entrants.

Controversial new rules were bought in to the Open Cup this year requiring teams to post a performance bond of $1,000 along with their entry fee. It obviously had an effect. In 2018, 108 teams entered the open division qualifying track, which was a record. This year it’s down to 94. There were 7 Miami-based teams in the first qualifying round in 2018; this year, just 4. These two teams participated locally, along with Florida Soccer Soldiers and Miami Sun FC. Florida Soccer Soldiers won that one also by a 2-1 scoreline on Saturday evening at Kendall Soccer Park.

Back to the match. It was a late Sunday evening kick off again with the game starting at 8:30 p.m. A small but committed crowd was in attendance and the game got off to a slow start. Possession was quite even with FC Kendall making slightly better use of the ball. Both sides had chances from distance but neither goalkeeper was seriously tested, efforts going high and wide. It was a midfield battle with not many moments of quality, really because these teams were so evenly matched. 0-0 after 45 minutes.

Second-half action

While the first half failed to provide too much goalmouth action, the second exploded into life when Red Force scored the opening goal. The boys in red and white won possession and countered, the ball ended up at the feet of winger Stiven Salinas who noticed the FC Kendall keeper well off his line. Salinas measured a perfect lobbed finish for the goal from some 30 yards out. A great flash of individual skill. 1-0 Red Force.

FC Kendall had no choice but to change to a more adventurous mentality and set about finding an equalizer. And they got an absolute gift. With Kendall closing down the ball high up the field, a Red Force defender made a poor low clearance that ricocheted of another player right into the path of an FC Kendall attacker on the edge of the box. He looked up and sent a great shot past Widen in the Red Force goal.

It looked like we were headed to extra time and possibly penalties. Ninety minutes were up. Midway in to the time added on at the end of the game up stepped substitute Marcello Palucci to rifle a low shot into the net through a crowd of players to put Red Force back on top. FC Kendall couldn’t find an equalizer with time running out, although they came very close. A free kick in a perfect area just outside the box clipped the crossbar with the keeper beaten in the dying moments.

It will have been a difficult loss for FC Kendall to swallow against their rivals in the Clasico de Kendall. For large parts of the game they were the better team and had they not found Anton Widen in good form between the posts for Red Force this game might have gone another way. Both teams played some good soccer especially in the second half. Red Force and Florida Soccer Soldiers will face off in the second qualifying round on October 20th at Kendall Soccer Park, 8:30pm.

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