MIAMI (Aug. 2, 2017) – The dream continues for FC Cincinnati. The United Soccer League (USL) side – just 21-months old – booked a place in the Semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a slim 1-0 win over Miami FC of the North American Soccer League (NASL). Another winning goal for star striker Djiby Fall, and one more heroic turn between the posts for Mitch Hildebrandt, must have the fans back home in Southern Ohio believing 2017 could be a year of destiny for their young club.
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The first-half was a surprising end-to-end affair, with both sides carving out a raft of half-chances but lacking a final product. Miami were eager to show their attacking chops early and Stefano Pinho – tied with Fall as the 2017 Cup’s top-scorer with four goals in four games – hit a dangerous low cross through the FC Cincinnati goal-box. Luckily for Hildebrandt, the Brazilian’s service failed to find a target creeping on the doorstep.
The Ohioans responded soon after, in the sixth and eighth minute, with a pair of teasing crosses. The first came from Justin Hoyte out left and then another shortly after from Kevin Schindler on right. Both were just out of reach of the target-man Fall, who’s scored all the goals the Queen City side have mustered in this year’s Open Cup – not to mention 11 in the league.
The visitors’ best chance of the half came in the 13th minute, when Miami keeper Daniel Vega gifted the ball to Corben Bone, who was unable to steer his shot on target, hitting weak and wide from just outside the box. From there on out, FC Cincinnati relied on shots from distance and hopeful crosses in toward Fall, the Senegalese ace renowned for his ability in the air.
At the other end, Pinho and the ever-threatening Kwadwo Poku were the danger-men for Miami. But like their guests, they were unable to create a clear-cut chance despite carving out spaces and promising routes to goal. Their best chance came late in the half when Rhett Bernstein, who scored with his head in the last round against MLS outfit Atlanta United, climbed highest only to see his soft header denied by Hildebrandt.
The first-half, defined largely by nerves with so much on the line, wound to a close with neither side able to show anything for their attacking endeavor.
The second-half saw Miami FC up the tempo again in hopes of grabbing a goal early. With 11 Open Cup goals heading into this Quarterfinal, the onus was on them to dictate the play and get on the scoreboard. Pinho looked to have done enough in the 59th minute, but the outstanding Hildebrandt rushed off his line like a man possessed to clear the ball to safety and keep his side in the game.
At the other end, Cincinnati’s attackers hit back with the occasional jab – usually a long-range effort on the speculative side. Aodhan Quinn had a decent chance in the 67th minute, but his effort from the edge of the box lacked the accuracy to go with its power, flying wide for a goal-kick.
And just when it looked like the game might be settling toward extra-time and perhaps penalties, FC Cincinnati landed a knockout blow in the 69th minute. Hoyte – the English-born Trinidadian International with bags of experience and guile – took advantage of some confusion in the Miami rearguard. He burst down the left side and crossed low for Fall, who hit home from inches out for his fourth goal in four Open Cup starts (all four match-winners). The only Cup game he didn’t score in was the Round of 16 shootout win over Chicago Fire, which he missed through injury and in which his side failed to score over 120 minutes of play.
The visitors still had some work to do before they could pop the corks and celebrate becoming the first non-Major League Soccer side to reach the Semifinals since Richmond Kickers did it in 2011. With Miami FC turning the screws, Hildebrandt – predictably – was the hero again. With the seconds ticking down, he denied a rampaging Poku from point-blank range, making an inexplicable save with his toe. The only smudge on a glorious victory for FC Cincinnati was a late 90th-minute yellow card for Fall. It was his third in the 2017 Open Cup and means he will be suspended for the Semifinal later this month.
FC Cincinnati earned 15,000 USD on the night as the Division II team to go farthest in this year’s Open Cup. And now they move on to face New York Red Bulls in the Last Four on August 15 back at their beloved Nippert Stadium, where they’ve won four of their five Open Cup games. Having conceded zero goals in the Cup so far, it’s time to start thinking it might just be a year of destiny for these strivers from the lower leagues. They look to have what it takes to become the first non-MLS team since the fabled Rochester Rhinos of 1999 to hoist the Dewar Cup.