Incredible U.S. Open Cup Run Ends for Lubbock Matadors with 3-1 Loss to Pro Side New Mexico United

By Seth Biddulph/NPSL.com 

The magic of the Open Cup is one of the great sensations in lower league soccer.  First-year clubs can make improbable runs just as easily as any experienced club.  In only their third year of existence, the Lubbock Matadors had already proven that it doesn’t matter what level you play at, all that matters is win and advance. 

Despite only having a handful of sessions as a roster in 2024, the Matadors came out strong against the USL Championship side New Mexico United.  The soon to depart head coach Paul Gilbert stuck with his club’s strengths from the first two rounds and kept his team sheet largely unchanged, sending out Shuma Sasaki and Mario Fernandez to provide some challenges for a United team that has been very good in the early stages of the USL season. 

Sasaki drew the job of playing against debutant Jackson Dubois for United, and took the academy player to school.  Throughout the half, the University of the Cumberlands forward found plenty of space on the left side of the United defense and with some support, could have had some dangerous moments. 

The Matadors certainly weren’t afraid of their hosts, and their physicality took United by surprise. Lubbock matched up well against their opponents and had their defensive third locked down until a mistake at the back by Nicola Brocca nearly cost them.  In the 12th minute, Brocca gave the ball away in the defensive third, allowing Daniel Bruce a chance to go one-on-one with Owen Jack. Facing the United forward, Jack made himself big and prevented the Englishman from securing the lead.

In the 14th minute, Sasaki once again had a chance to drive on Dubois, but this time he had a runner in the box.  Luke Jones worked his way free in the area and received the cross from the forward.  What looked like a golden opportunity for Jones was dragged wide right after bringing his leg across his body and pushing the ball out for a goal kick.

It wouldn’t take long for Lubbock to find their third chance of the half as Kodai Kobayashi dared to shoot in the 21st minute.  With yards of space in front of him, Kobayashi shot from outside the left edge of the area.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get much on it and Kris Shakes, the United keeper, was able to gather the ball easily.

Sasaki continued to work the left, hoping to get some support in the area as the first half hour of the match neared a close.  Just as it looked like there would be a quality chance for Lubbock, Sasaki’s cross was left without a target and United was able to regain possession.

Defensively, the Matadors put on a performance.  One of the highlights of the match came in the 34th minute by way of Jack.  Sergio Rivas was found in space just outside the area and drove the ball on target, but a great kick save by Jack kept the scoreline at 0-0.

As it is with football, mistakes can prove costly for any team.  United had one of their own just before halftime and Jones narrowly missed out on taking advantage.  In the 42nd minute, Will Seymore tried to play the ball back to Shakes, but the touch was too heavy and Shakes nearly turned the ball over to Jones.  If not for a fortunate recovery, Jones would have been in on goal.

Into the second half the match went, and the Matadors found themselves facing a renewed attack from United.  Undeterred, it looked like the NPSL club could have found their way to a lead. 

However, it all came undone for the visitors in the 58th minute.  Over the next four minutes, United would see goals by Harry Swartz from just in front of goal, a chipped goal in the 59th by Bruce, and a wonderstrike by Mukwelle Akale from 30 yards out on a free kick.  In a few short minutes, the promise of a potential Cup win all but evaporated for Lubbock. 

The Matadors wouldn’t go down without a fight however.  In the 89th minute, Sasaki once again had a chance down the left wing, but after making his way into the area, was dragged down by Avionne Flanagan for a penalty.  Gilbert sent Sasaki to the mark, and he drilled the take to cut the lead to 3-1. 

Moments later, another chance to cut the lead appeared for the Matadors, but the chipped attempt went just over the bar.

Player of the Match

Shuma Sasaki – Shuma’s Cup run has been nothing short of spectacular. With another goal to his name, he has cemented his name in Lubbock Matador history with two goals and two assists during the 2024 US Open Cup.

Quotable

Departing Head Coach Paul Gilbert had nothing but praise for the team’s efforts on the evening. “I’m so proud of our team. You go through so much adversity just trying to get players here for the Open Cup, shuffling guys in and out. We only had six training sessions in the past few weeks. I’m just happy for each of these guys and that we could be a small part in their story as they continue on their careers.”

On the play: “You can’t make mistakes in transition and if you don’t get on the ball its going to be a long night. I was amazed with the attitude our guys took and their effort to get us the goal at the end was fitting for how we played.”

Shuma in the wide areas: “I thought we had some real joy in the wide areas and that getting the ball to Shuma was really important. We obviously had one of the better chances of the game inside the first 15 minutes and I wish we would have scored there, but that’s football. I can’t say enough about Shuma, he can play at the championships level and he showed very well for himself.”

On the fans and the club: “I want what’s best for the club going forward. I want them to continue to grow and bring people joy and give players a chance to develop. I can’t speak highly enough about the front office and this ownership group. Their investment in young people and young professionals is fantastic and I’m so thankful that they gave me the opportunity to be here for two and a half years now and be a small part of the history of this club. The fans that traveled tonight are incredible, amazing people. I absolutely love them. I can’t say enough about them and will hold them in my heart forever.

Photo Credit: Jacob Terrell

 

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