By Jeff DiVeronica/NPSL.com
Sitting on a tiny stool in the visiting locker room at Monroe Community College, FC Motown coach Sacir Hot looked gassed – as if he’d just played in a 120-plus minutes of knock-down, drag-out soccer in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup knockout match.
“Disappointed? Yeah, but not necessarily heartbroken,” he said after his gritty club was eliminated in the third round, 4-3, on penalty kicks by Rochester New York FC after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time didn’t solve the match.
“Listen, everything that we’ve done to this point is house money. They’re a pro team that trains five days a week with just (soccer) on their mind. We’re a team full of tradesmen, we’ve got plumbers … if anything, it shows what we’ve done well as a coaching staff and players.”
FC Motown fell behind 2-0 in 38 minutes but kept coming at Rochester, a first-year MLS Next Pro side with immense Cup history from 1996-2017 under its former name, the Rhinos. Motown trailed 2-1 at halftime, gained a man advantage in the 50th minute and then a two-man edge in the 85th. It finally found the equalizer in stoppage time of regulation with Rochester trying to hang on.
Kian Alberto whipped a looping pass in front to Joe Fala. His header was tipped off the right post by goalkeeper Phil Ejimadu, but Fala booted it home from 4 yards. Suddenly, the visitors from Morristown, N.J., had new life. The NPSL team was coming off a pair of 1-0 Cup wins and now had the momentum, which is something Motown goalkeeper David Greczek preserved by coming up big in the 78th minute.
Samuel Pompee’s hard tackle well left of goal on Rochester’s Gibran Rayo was deemed worth a penalty. Instead of falling behind 3-1, Greczek guessed correctly, diving to his right to block Inalien Wilterlynd’s shot with his hand.
Hot’s counterpart, Rochester coach Bruno Baltazar, kept recalibrating his lineup to support more defense and limit FC Motown’s chances. Baltazar said he has never coached a match playing down two men, but the short-handed Rochester defense did well. The best chance FC Motown had in 30 minutes of extra time was Federico De Oliveira’s leaping header in front. It sailed just over the crossbar. Penalties provided even more drama.
Rochester switched keepers to get its 6-foot-5 starter, Caique Santos, in for PKs. Baltazar said he pulled Ejimadu because the keeper’s right quad was bothering him, plus “Caique is amazing on PKs.” The big man from Brazil started PKs by tipping Dilly Duka’s shot over the bar. Gustavo Rissi converted for Rochester. Fala cashed in for Motown, then Greczek stopped Ed Williams’ PK. Johannes Pieles gave Motown a 2-1 edge and Greczek did it again, blocking a shot by Ian Garrett.
Said Hot: “Going into penalties, I told the guys: ‘I have all confidence in Dave.’ “
But then in Round 4, De Oliveira saw Caique stop his shot and Rochester’s Bubcar Djalo tied it at 2. Alberto and Rochester’s Raymond Drai converted to force sudden death PKs, 3-3. Zach Perez’s shot over the crossbar gave the home team the chance to end it, and Milan Vanacker did. Vanacker is just 20 years old; Drai is 18.
“A knockout game, to give the responsibility to two young players is not easy, but I know what I’m doing,” said Baltazar. “And I know and I see what they do in training. I felt really comfortable.”
Rochester will find out its Round of 32 draw on Thursday. It remains the only club from a lower division to win the Cup since MLS came into existence in 1996. The Rhinos, then a second-division side from the A-League, won it all in 1999 by eliminating four straight MLS squads. It also was Cup runner-up in 1996, its first ever year. On Wednesday, it avoided the big upset, improving to 20-0 all-time in Cup play against teams from a lower division.
“We are still building it; don’t forget, I just arrived to the country one month ago,” Baltazar said. “Motown is a good team. Even if it’s coming from amateur levels, they have good players – players that could be on our team.”
Motown proved it throughout the match.
After falling behind 2-0, Duka’s 14-yard shot in the 40th minute cut the deficit in half. He took a cross from Ryan Peterson, made a nice cutback to his left foot and rifled a shot in the goal. Rochester had gone ahead on goals by Pedro Dolabella (15-yard shot in the 21st minute) and Wilterlynd (redirect in front of Dolabella’s shot in the 38th).
Rochester defender and captain Lamar Batista was sent off for his second yellow card in the 50th minute after a hard shoulder challenge on Pompee that also left the Haitian limping. The 85th minute straight red card dispatched Dolabella, who was charged with an elbow to the back of De Oliveira’s head at midfield.
With North Carolina Fusion U23 losing in extra time to Richmond on Wednesday and FC Motown playing to a 2-2 draw (before PKs) in Rochester, it meant a $25,000 prize for the best finish by an Open Division team. When told about the other result in the locker room, it wasn’t hard to see that Hot would have preferred to advance in the tournament to win that money rather than cash on a night when Motown was eliminated.
“There are things we could have done different if we got a second chance,” he said, “but you can say that about everything in life.”
Photo Credit: Scott Cordaro Photography