Florida Soccer Soldiers took their cupset show on the road Tuesday night, knocking off Charlotte Independence of the second-tier USL Championship to advance to Round 3 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
In a match where Soccer Soldiers trailed twice and went down a man just before the end of regular time, such a result seemed unlikely for most of the night. But the Soccer Soldiers refused to relent, and a 119th-minute mistake led to the tying goal that sent the match to penalty kicks.
— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) May 15, 2019
While play was pretty even through the first half hour, Hugh Roberts of Charlotte opened the scoring in the 31st minute, assisted by Hassan Ndam after a Enzo Martinez free kick. The Independence kept the pressure on after Soccer Soldiers surrendered the free kick, and converted the opportunity.
The goal didn’t break Soccer Soldiers’ spirit, and in the 78th minute a perfectly placed cross by Daniel Meneses (a hero in the team’s game against Miami FC last week) found the head of Adolfo Suazo, which found the back of the net.
While the goal gave Soccer Soldiers confidence that they could survive and advance, a double-blow moments from the end of regular time seemed to bring the team back to reality. First, midfielder Antonioni Gonzalez was shown a second red card in the second minute of second-half injury time and dismissed. Second, a mad scramble eight minutes into injury time appeared to produce a Dominic Oduro winner. But the assistant referee raised his flag just inches from the goal line, and Oduro was ruled offside.
Oduro found his goal early on in extra time, as he took a quality shot that found the top-right corner of the net. Man down and goal down, Soccer Soldiers appeared down and out. Then, the shock of the game (and perhaps the tournament) happened.
Miss the Magic City Soccer podcast before the game? Listen to Lee, Drew and Christian Gomez here!
Ndam, who assisted on the first goal of the night, provided an inadvertent assist on the last. A back pass that appeared intended for Charlotte goalkeeper Curtis Anderson was weak and misdirected. Valentin Sabella, the 19-year-old MAST Academy product and son of former Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella, pounced on the opportunity. Valentin, arguably the young standout of the Open Cup thus far, calmly misdirected the keeper, reoriented himself to have a better look at the goal, then slotted his opportunity home to tie the game in the dying moments.
Penalty kick heroics
In penalty kicks, Florida Soccer Soldiers were flawless. Led by Bryant Martin, the talismanic keeper whose acrobatics has kept Soccer Solders in both its Open Cup games thus far, took the first penalty kick for the club and converted it coolly. This unique fact led to plenty of social media comments.
KEEPER VS KEEPER TO START IT OFF. GOD BLESS THE FLORIDA SOCCER SOLDIERS
— Ken (@astrobull67) May 15, 2019
And the soccer soldier gk takes the first penalty. Very cupset, much open cup #USOC2019
— Lynden Gooch Fan Account (@hippynothipster) May 15, 2019
How awesome are the Florida Soccer Soldiers. Their keeper takes the first Pk and buries it #USOC2019 🤣🤣
— Austin Muniz (@beetdiggers24) May 15, 2019
Every penalty in the shootout was converted until the last one, attempted by Martinez and saved by Martin by another extraordinary effort by Martin. The match was won, the celebrations begun, and Florida Soccer Soldiers were left to think about their next matchup in a wild Open Cup ride.
Florida Soccer Soldiers will face the winner of North Carolina FC and Richmond Kickers. Those two teams will play Wednesday at 7 p.m.