By Robert Jonas/NPSL.com
Crossfire Redmond came to the Bay Area with dreams of winning their U.S. Open Cup debut, and they were not disappointed. After playing a scoreless first half against Project 51O, the USL-2 side of the Oakland Roots, Crossfire broke through with three second-half goals to advance in the nation’s longest running tournament.
“It’s so great for the club,” said head coach Bill Colello, smiling after witnessing his team’s dominant performance. “To see some of our veterans, joined by so many of our young guys, playing and winning in the U.S. Open Cup – this might be the biggest game they ever play in, at least until the next one.”
After winning their first-round game on the road, the NPSL side from Redmond, Washington will return to Northern California to face Sacramento Republic FC, last year’s tournament runners up, in round two of the 2023 U.S. Open Cup. But for tonight, under the lights at the Ohlone College soccer field, Crossfire Redmond was basking in the moment.
“It’s a huge privilege to play in this tournament, one of the biggest tournaments in the U.S. for American soccer,” said Lucas Hauswirth, who scored the first goal of the game just after halftime. “It was a huge team win, and the first time all of us were playing together. It was fun to be out here and to get the win.”
It has been a long time since the team played a competitive match, and even though it came last summer, when they lost in the NPSL championship game, everyone played like they were in midseason form.
“They probably passed the ball better than us, and even at times looked better than us,” said Colello. “But these guys, our club is so tough to play against. Our goal is to make it miserable for our opponent to play. We gave them respect, but we knew we could pressure them too. And we never stop out there, we’re just terrible to play against.”
The game started promisingly enough, with Crossfire getting their first shot on target in the first minute, as Connor Lofy tested Project 51O goalkeeper Timothy Syrel from close distance, forcing a save around the post. Twelve minutes later, Eric Howard blasted a ball just wide of goal, keeping the home side on the defensive once again. He’d learn from the experience and make amends in the second half.
“Eric was great,” said Colello. “He was everywhere tonight. As one of our under-19 players, he’s continuing to develop and will be heading to Georgetown next year. All of our young guys were impressive.”
Crossfire continued to be the better side in the first half, but Project 51O kept more possession and limited the visitors to the occasional attacking thrust, and both sides entered intermission with a clean sheet. That was about to change.
Just two minutes into the second half, Hauswirth, a former standout defender at the University of Washington, seized on the opportunity to carve through the Project 51O backline and put Crossfire ahead.
“I received the ball on the wing, and I saw two defenders coming at me, and I knew I had to make something happen,” Hauswirth said. “So I dribbled two guys and put a dangerous cross into the box that found its way in for a goal, so I’ll take it. Good things happen when you put the ball in the box, and I was hoping for the best, so I was thankful it ended up in the back of the net.”
Whether credit for the goal goes to Hauswirth or it gets counted as an own-goal, the play energized the visitors and set the stage for what would be a dominating second half showing. Central midfielder Christian Soto Rincon, who was named the Select 2022 NPSL Golden Ball winner last season, took charge and played a key role in the second goal of the game.
After seeing goalkeeper Syrel, the host’s player of the match, save a penalty off a foul he earned, Soto went to work minutes later and bravely won a duel near the top of the box that allowed the ball to make its way to Howard. And with his teammate crumpled to the ground and the referee signaling to play on, the talented youngster made no mistake with his effort to the far post.
“I had to control the ball as it was bouncing, but right as I hit it, I knew it was going in,” said Howard. “It was a great feeling to get it and to celebrate.”
All that was left for Crossfire Premier was to protect their lead and run out the clock. In the fifth minute of stoppage time, with Project 51O pouring ahead in their comeback effort, the visitors hit on the counterattack, with forward Hamza Haddadi providing the third goal of a comprehensive 3-0 victory. And when the final whistle blew, the players celebrated a job well done.
“We got more organized in the way we did things, and our press was more effective,” said Colello on the team’s superb second half. “Our guys in the midfield were running, and running, and running – they were really good tonight. Everyone did such a great job, from the front to the back.”
“Getting the win tonight is really exciting, especially given that we haven’t played together for a while,” added Howard. “It was really fun to be back out there.”
And as the congratulations subsided and bags were packed on the sidelines, a murmur picked up as the players recognized their accomplishment and what lay ahead, a second-round meeting with Sacramento Republic, the Cinderella story of the 2022 tournament. Perhaps 2023 could see Crossfire Redmond make a little magic of their own.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Hauswirth said. “It’s a good opportunity and it will be fun to share the pitch with them. We know they are a great team, obviously, making the final last year and consistently finishing high in the [USL] Championship. We’re already looking forward to it, and by game day, I expect we will look at them as equals. They are going to be a very tough side, but we’re excited for it.”
Photo Credit: Robert Jonas/NPSL.com