D.C. United had to work a bit harder than expected on Tuesday night, but they advanced past North Carolina FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on penalties. Ian Harkes scored in the 25th minute for the Black-and-Red, but a fantastic finish from Marios Lomis in the 83rd minute sent the game into extra time.
Neither team threatened much in the extra 30 minutes, which led the game to be decided by a penalty shootout. Kyle Bekker had his shot saved by David Ousted and Peabo Doue hit the bar for NCFC, while Harkes missed his kick with a chance to end the game. Bruno Miranda stepped up for United’s fifth kick, and converted to send United into the next round.
Ben Olsen named a starting lineup that include six of the starters from the team’s previous game, a 1-1 draw against Los Angeles FC. Ousted got the nod in goal, and was joined by Steve Birnbaum, Oniel Fisher, Chris Durkin, Paul Arriola, and Yamil Asad. The five new faces were Harkes, Miranda, Jalen Robinson, Joseph Mora, and Dane Kelly.
North Carolina FC were more than willing to sit back and absorb United’s pressure in the first half, which led to little action. Arriola had the first look at goal in the 11th minute, but his laced shot was parried away by keeper Alex Tambakis, with his defense clearing away the danger.
Harkes had a crack in the 24th minute, taking a feed from Miranda and lining up a shoot from outside the box. Tambakis was at full stretch, but Harkes’ stinging shot hit the side netting, as the keeper seemed to have his goal covered.
But a minute later, Harkes was presented with an even better opportunity, and capitalized to score his first goal of the campaign. A cross in from Mora on the left bamboozled Tambakis and his back line, with the ball settling just in front of goal. Asad was the quickest to react, but hit the post from close range. The ball then popped back out in front, and Harkes was on the spot to prod home for the 1-0 lead.
NCFC’s only shot in the first half came in the 32nd minute, after Tiyi Shipalane was taken down outside the box by Durkin. Dre Fortune took the honors with the free kick, but his shot smashed off of the Black-and-Red’s wall.
Miranda could have made it two just before the end of the half, after Asad created a turnover in the North Carolina half. Asad quickly fed Arriola, who got into the box, and centered the ball on the ground, but Miranda whiffed on the shot near the penalty spot.
Kelly, who was making his first start with the club, nearly added to United’s lead just three minutes into the second half. Mora was able to get all the way up the left wing, and crossed the ball towards the near post from the end line. Kelly beat his marker to the ball, but his glancing header was expertly saved by Tambakis.
North Carolina did finally begin to grow into the game, as United seemed to take their foot off the gas. Bekker took aim with a speculative effort in the 53rd minute, ending with a shot that sailed over the goal. But 15 minutes later, Bekker played Shipalane down the right hand flank. Shipalane’s cross into the box was nearly connected with, but a timely intervention from Fisher put the ball out for a corner.
Substitute Marcel Kandziora put a header wide for North Carolina in the 70th minute, as United continued to hang on to their one-goal advantage.
That lead evaporated in the 83rd minute though, as United could only half-clear a corner from Bekker. The ball fell to Lomis in the box, and the striker hit an acrobatic shot towards goal. With a mass of players in front of him, Ousted saw the shot late, and couldn’t react in time to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net. It was the first shot on goal for the visitors on the night.
Luciano Acosta, who had come on as a substitute in the 72nd minute, kept a corner in two minutes later, but had his well-hit shot saved by Tambakis. Still, it was North Carolina that came closest to winning late on, when former United player Austin da Luz headed the ball towards goal, only for Ousted to make the save on the line.
North Carolina also had the best chance of the first half of extra time, as substitute Daniel Rios found space outside the box for a shot in the 97th minute. His effort was on target, but Ousted made a diving save.
Darren Mattocks, who had entered the game in the immediate aftermath of Lomis’ goal, nearly connected on a Mora cross in the 119th minute of the game. However, a timely intervention prevented Mattocks from netting a late winner, as NCFC cleared the ball out for a corner, which they successfully defended.
North Carolina went first in the shootout, and Rios converted, with Asad matching his effort. Bekker had the second attempt saved by Ousted, while Mattocks gave United the advantage. Lomis and Acosta traded conversions, but then Doue hit the crossbar with NCFC’s fourth attempt. Harkes had a chance to win it, but fired wide. Connor Tobin scored to force Miranda to convert, which the Bolivian did to win it for United.
United’s next Open Cup match is not yet determined. The draw for the Round of 16 will take place on Thursday, with US Soccer listing June 16-17 and June 20 as potential dates for the game. In the meantime, D.C. heads to the west coast for a game this coming Saturday at the Seattle Sounders.