Soccer

Cup Closed: North Carolina FC bows out with 3-2 loss to Houston Dynamo

Posted June 15

— The Buffalo Bayou, a slow-moving river formed 18,00 years ago, runs through modern Houston, Texas. Periodically every day, bursts of oxygen are jetted into the river, a process called “burping” to prevent the waterway from becoming stale and stagnant.

Both the North Carolina FC and Houston Dynamo would need many bursts of oxygen for their fourth round clash in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Through 120 minutes of play, plus an 88-minute lightning delay, an extra time goal by Houston’s Memo Rodriguez gave the Dynamo a 3-2 win over NCFC.

North Carolina FC were missing injured regulars Connor Tobin and James Marcelin. Forward Matt Fondy remained on the bench for the opening half, stayed by midfielder Saeed Robinson. However, the team welcomed back fullback Paul Black, who missed the previous six matches with a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, the Dynamo sported an XI full of reservists and at least two members of the Rio Valley Grande FC, their USL affiliate club. Among their starters was Andrew Wenger, the former Duke University standout and Hermann Trophy winner.

The home side fulfilled their early high hopes in just the fourth minute. A Saeed Robinson shot was cleared just outside the penalty arc, where fullback Steven Miller’s one-touch, left-footed rope from 22 yards out flew past Dynamo keeper Joe Willis for the 1-0 lead.

After several knocks at the door, Houston equalized in the 25th minute. Vicente Sanchez shed Black off the right wing, then served up a cross that found a sliding Wenger, whose redirection bounded past goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre. That said, Sylvestre’s three first half saves kept the score knotted at 1-1 entering intermission.

Houston held 62 percent possession the first half, a level of assertiveness that dismayed North Carolina FC manager Colin Clarke.

“We weren’t getting close enough to them pressure-wise in the first half,” Clarke said.

Clarke brought on Fondy to being the second stanza, but despite NCFC’s aggressive run of play to start the half, a miscue handed Houston their first lead in the 62nd minute. Sylvestre played out to Austin da Luz, who turned upfield and was promptly dispossessed by the Dynamo’s Dylan Remick. Remick took a couple of touches before slotting his shot past Sylvestre for the 2-1 advantage.

After Houston shots found the woodwork three times, North Carolina FC finally found their own equalizer in the 69th minute. Deadball specialist Lance Laing looped a free kick from 25 yards out that short-hopped past Willis to tie the score at 2-2.

Last year’s Open Cup match between Carolina and the New England Revolution was stopped just 10 minutes in for a delay of over two hours. This year, with only two minutes remaining in regulation time, Mother Nature decided to intervene in another gripping Cup tie, as looming lightning finally halted the game. After play resumed at 10:52 p.m., the teams played out the rest of regulation plus three minutes of added time without a goal.

The opening half of extra time came and went without a goal. North Carolina FC’s best chance came in the 94th minute, when Matt Fondy’s point-blank, horizontal header was smothered by Willis.

With North Carolina FC’s final substitution standing at the table, Houston forged ahead for the final time in the 109th minute. A subpar clearance bounded out to Dynamo midfielder Memo Rodriguez, who slipped a shot from beyond the area past Sylvestre for the game-winner.

Houston Dynamo manager Wilmer Cabrera, who suffered his own extra time loss to the former Carolina RailHawks in 2014 while managing the erstwhile Chivas USA, admitted part of his team’s strategy against NCFC was high pressing and closely marking wingers Laing and Tiyi Shipalane.

“We needed to pressure, we needed to impose ourselves,” Cabrera said. “Despite having seven players from our affiliated USL team, we needed to come over here and pressure the ball, and it was good.”

“It was probably a fun game to watch,” Clarke said. “It was pretty much end-to-end with a lot of chances and opportunities. Maybe the little bit of quality [Houston] had told in the end. We had enough chances to win the game and go ahead in extra time, but we weren’t clinical enough in front of goal.”

For North Carolina FC, who once feasted on MLS competition at WakeMed Soccer Park, it’s their third consecutive loss to MLS opponents in the Open Cup. Tonight’s extra time defeat mirrors last year’s Open Cup result with the New England Revolution, which Carolina also lost by a goal in extra time.

North Carolina FC resumes NASL play this Saturday at Indy Eleven. NCFC returns to Cary the following Saturday, June 24 for a rematch with the Eleven.

BOX SCORE

LINEUPS
​NCFC: Sylvestre, Black, Ibeagha, Ruhaak, Miller, da Luz (Akinyode, 88’), Albadawi, Shipalane (Shriver, 109’), Laing, S. Robinson (Fondy, 46’), SchulerHOUSTON: Willis; K. Garcia, Hunter, Anibaba, Remick, Bird, Holland (Escalante, 81’), Ward, Rodriguez (James, 111’), Wenger, Sánchez (Luna, 78’)

GOALS
​NCFC: Miller, 4’; Laing, 69’
HOU: Wenger, 25’ (Sanchez); Remick, 62’; Rodriguez, 108’

CAUTIONS
​NCFC: Da Luz, 43’
BOU: Bird, 66’; Wenger, 87’; Luna, 101’

EJECTIONS
​NCFC: ---
HOU: ---

ATTENDANCE: 4,325

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