A goal from Christian Okeke in the 115th minute gave NTX Rayados a 2-1 extra-time victory over the Fort Worth Vaqueros in the first round of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday night.
With both teams showing fatigue after a spirited match that ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, Okeke got on the end of a long ball in the 18-yard area, pushed the ball into space on his right and finished to put Rayados into the second round.
The game would’ve been over in 90 minutes had it not been for superb outings from Vaqueros goalkeeper Marko Jovanovic and his Rayados counterpart Eduardo Sanchez.
Jovanovic was whistled for a foul in his box just before the halftime whistle, making contact with a forward on a breakaway but dove to his left to stop Sergio Lara’s effort from the spot and send things level into the halftime break.
The Vaqueros came out as the more energetic side after the break, with Sone Kalle bringing Sanchez into action in the 59th and 64th minutes with breakaways. Each time the goalkeeper was able to deny the forward a goal in his U.S. Open Cup debut.
“I thought both goalkeepers were outstanding today. Really, the game could’ve been 4-4,” Vaqueros coach Nick Stavrou said after the match. “That’s what you want at this level. If you’re going to compete in the game, you have to come up with those saves. He did, and we certainly don’t blame him for any part of the loss.”
Rayados got the early goal thanks to a beautiful free kick from Lucio Martinez. Fort Worth center back Robert Da Costa brought down Lara just outside the area after a give-and-go and Martinez stepped up to curl it past Jovanovic.
The hosts looked to double their advantage in the 17th minute with Mohamed Itasu Sesay’s header bound for the back of the net before Jovanovic intervened. He didn’t have much time to rest, with Victor Pinal trying to beat him from distance after the ensuing corner kick fell to him, but once again Jovanovic made the stop.
Fort Worth had its equalizer in the 25th minute. Ramon Nunez sent in a set piece and Bobby Edet headed home to make things 1-1.
The Vaqueros tried to hit again quickly with Nunez playing Kalle in down the right side of attack, but the play was brought back for offside. It would be the best half for either side the rest of the first half until the penalty.
Nunez, a World Cup veteran with Honduras who hasn’t played organized soccer in two years, said playing 120 minutes was grueling after the long layoff. He was encouraged, though, to see how his younger teammates continued to look for a winner in the extra time period.
“Well, I haven’t touched a ball in two years, so I really don’t know how I did it,” he said with a laugh. “I think my competitive edge. I think the boys did well. Everybody was hobbling out there, but trying to get the win. Unlucky we didn’t.”
The Vaqueros now turn their focus back to league play with Tyler FC visiting Farrington Field in first home match for Fort Worth this season. While Nunez may be the most senior player on the team, he wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of the long match in the North Texas heat. Luckily for the Vaqueros, there are several players who didn’t feature Wednesday but are eager to get their opportunity.
“We’ve got the luxury of a big squad as well so there will be some fresh legs that didn’t play in this one that will come in there,” Stavrou said. “Hopefully, our squad is big enough where even though these guys played 120 minutes we’ve got other guys who can step in and do the job, which is how we did so well last year because we had so many guys who could contribute at a high level.”
Contributor: Jon Arnold/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Craig Marcho