U.S. Open Cup run ends in semifinals as FC Cincinnati fall in penalty kicks

20230823 FCCvsMIA Match JG 111

In their return to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, FC Cincinnati battled with Inter Miami CF to the last possible moment. Despite a heroic, late equalizing goal, The Orange and Blue fell to Inter Miami CF 3-3 (5-4) in penalty kicks on Wednesday night.

The U.S. Open Cup showdown brought back memories of FC Cincinnati’s historic run in 2017. With the soccer world’s eyes on The Queen City, FCC drew another huge crowd to TQL Stadium, selling out the building for the 11th time this season.

“This one hurts,” head coach Pat Noonan said postgame, “we were in position to advance and lost momentum. I know the guys gave everything but this one’s disappointing.”

“This was supposed to be a big opportunity for us to go to the next level,” FCC midfielder Obinna Nwobodo said. “For me this wasn’t what I planned because in mind whichever way it happened we were going to come up with victory and go to the finals.”

The match was swung in the late moments as FC Cincinnati was forced to play without multiple key players due to injuries and fatigue. With temperatures in the 90s throughout the match and high humidity creating a muggy environment. Cramping became a clear problem in the later minutes of the game, with Luciano Acosta, Brandon Vazquez, and Álvaro Barreal all needing to be removed at different moments.

“I can’t fault the effort; there were a lot of guys that gave more than they were expecting,” Noonan said of the performances. “We had some unfortunate subs that we had to make based on guys cramping and having to come off that just couldn’t see it out.

“We made adjustments that we weren’t expecting to…I don’t think anybody wants to come off the field. It was who could survive the end of the game and potentially more.”

The match’s fate came down to penalty kicks, overshadowing the performance’s quality. The Orange and Blue were just minutes away from advancing, then again battled to equalize the game late. Despite that, FCC leaves feeling rotten.

“It’s just a matter of guys stepping up and being brave,” Noonan said. “And for the five guys that stepped up, I’m proud of them.

“This is the hard part about the shootout. You get a winner and loser, somebody that’s going to have their head down despite a good performance. It’s a good time for our group to pick a player up when he’s probably disappointed.”

With the loss coming on penalty kicks, FC Cincinnati remained unbeaten at home with a 15-0-4 record. The Orange and Blue return to TQL Stadium on Saturday for a New York City FC league match.

“You gotta dig deep in moments like this,” Noonan said of moving on in MLS play. “You know, it’s two losses, but it’s two important losses. So how we come out of this is up to us.”

“Lift your heads up and you keep going,” Barreal added, “Now we focus on MLS and we’re in a very good way. We have to keep fighting. You keep your heads up and you keep fighting because we know we have more to go for.”

Kubo makes it three

In the late moments of extra time, after conceding three consecutive goals to the visitors stretching back to the 68th minute, FC Cincinnati found their leveling moment. Yuya Kubo sent a perfectly placed, curling shot around Inter Miami CF goalkeeper Drake Callender to even the score, 3-3, in the 114th minute of the match.

Bret Halsey, who was subbed on at the start of the second extra time period, created the opportunity with a quick dribble past a defender, then a centering pass to the Japanese striker.

Herons send it to extra time at the death

With mere minutes remaining in added time and FC Cincinnati holding a 2-1 lead, Inter Miami CF and their new star Lionel Messi drummed up the magic one more time. Messi sent a long range strike of a pass into the box that Leonardo Campana was able to head past FCC goalkeeper Alec Kann to send the match to extra time.

The tandem of Messi and Campana provided both of Inter Miami CF’s goals in regulation.

Moments into the start of extra time, Josef Martínez dribbled his way into the FCC box and sent his shot past a charging Kann to give The Herons their first lead, 3-2, in the 93rd minute of the match.

Acosta puts FCC up early

FC Cincinnati captain Luciano Acosta gave The Orange and Blue the early lead, dancing past multiple defenders to score in the 18th minute. Aaron Boupendza’s header to keep the ball moving forward was the catalyst for Acosta’s run, who earned his 14th goal of the season across all competitions. It was also Acosta’s first goal in 2023 U.S. Open Cup play.

It was the first time FCC had scored first since their fixture with Chivas Guadalajara in Leagues Cup on July 27.

The goal was the only one of the first half as FC Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead into the locker room. Both clubs had four shots, with Inter Miami CF owning possession to the tune of 64.9 percent to 35.1 percent.

Vazquez doubles the lead

After a long stretch with little dangerous action from either side, Santiago Arias sprung an attack that was quick and lethal, setting up Brandon Vazquez for a strike from the top of the box that doubled FCC’s lead in the 53rd minute.

After making a long run to track down a deep pass from Obinna Nwobodo, Arias cut back to the inside and found a trailing Vazquez wide open. After a touch to settle the pass, Vazquez delivered a clean, low running strike that beat the diving keeper to his right.

That goal was Vazquez’s third of the 2023 U.S. Open Cup, tying him for third among all players in this year's tournament. It was also the striker's 11th goal across all competitions with FC Cincinnati.

Opportunities lost

On two occasions FC Cincinnati had goals that appeared to be scored in their favor, taken away due to referee decisions.

The first was lost on an Boupendza flick over the goalkeeper after being sprung on a long pass in the 20th minute, two minutes after Acosta’s goal to open the scoring. The newly-signed striker was deemed to be offside by the line judge, but the ruling did not come until after the goal had been scored.

The second came at the 71st minute, when Yuya Kubo tapped in a loose ball in the box after a corner kick rattled around between defenders. The ref immediately waived off the FCC goal due to a hand ball, which was confirmed by a VAR check.

A third opportunity was thwarted as a Arias header clanked off the crossbar in the 104th minute.