The opening round of the historic U.S. Open Cup made its way through Pacific Beach on Wednesday night as the Albion SC PROS welcomed neighbors from the south, Chula Vista FC.
Buccaneer Stadium was buzzing well before the kickoff between the reigning champions of the National Premier Soccer League’s southwest conference and former Open Cup Cinderella, CVFC.
The match began and continued throughout as a fast paced, physical affair. From the first whistle, two highly attacking and attractive sides went at it. The PROS were not able to get comfortable and fully settle into their game against a Chula Vista side that made it evident from the start that they would not allow Albion time or space to receive the ball or begin an attack.
Chula Vista play a typical South Bay style of football, complete order in back line with four defenders, an 8 playing slightly ahead to receive and play forward and a front line with outside wingers using lively, quick feet; cutting in looking for a shot at goal or a ball to a center forward. When playing defensively, Chula Vista swarm whoever has possession and are physical on contact, a style of play the PROS have seen much of in the NPSL.
17 minutes into the match, Chula Vista gained ground when defender Luke Staats was shown a straight red after the swing of his elbow connected with Chula Vista defender Gilverto Perez-Lopez on an Albion free kick.
Albion coach Ziggy Korytoski had to quickly change the formation and sent forward Travis Nicklaw to temporally fill in the void of center back.
Being a man down, the PROS quickly shifted their game plan to a defend-and-counter approach that proved to work for the remaining minutes of the half, just missing was a strike into the net.
In the 30th minute, appeals for a penalty were waved off when PROS winger Michael Sauers cut in between two Chula Vista and defenders and got a touch from behind.
The halftime whistle was a breathe of fresh air for the PROS. Holding off an impressive Chula Vista side that looked spectacular on individual play in the final third with a man down seemed to provide a bit of confidence entering the second half.
For the second half whistle, Ziggy kept the PROS intact. Nicklaw was a dominant back and keeping the Chula Vista attack at bay. Do not fix what is not broken.
Entering the 57th minute, a studs up foul worthy of a yellow was called just outside the half circle entering Chula Vista territory. The man responsible for the foul was CV midfielder Francisco Ramirez. An intelligent managerial move was made by Chula Vista head coach Jose Hector Diaz, sub out Ramirez, a tactical maneuver that would come into play once again soon in the match.
By the 65th minutes Michael Sauers and Chula Vista right-back Jorge Gomez were having an entertaining go. Sauers would receive a touch usually at the half mark and have a run at Gomez. The battle seemed to be evenly split. On this occasion, Sauers split between two defenders and received a heavy tackle from behind from Gomez resulting in a caution.
Five minutes later, Sauers received another ball on the left flank in the mid, beating Gomez but quickly pulled down, once again, worthy of a caution, or in this case, a second yellow. A foul was called, no caution was given and a substation came from the Chula Vista bench. Sergio Zamudio would replace Gomez in the 72nd minute.
Chula Vista midfielder Alberto Diaz had been a menace down the right flank for most of the match for the PROS, to this point though, his last touch had been either too heavy or he himself had gone down too easily when confronted by a PROS defender.
Diaz took control on the left flank and preceded to do what he had done all night, run at the back line and cut inside, although this time the final touch was immaculate. The result was a magnificent curved strike to PROS keeper Jean Antoine’s far post to put Chula Vista ahead in the 74th minute.
What was lacking in the previous 74 minutes of play would appear in abundance to a packed house of nearly 2,000 in attendance at Buccaneer Stadium in Pacific Beach in the final 16. The bits of magic that only the 103rd edition of the cup could create would breathe a new fight, spirit and will to go forward into every single player on the pitch.
Just as a thunderous celebration was occurring on a blacked out away side on the visitors side of Buccaneer Stadium, the PROS took the kick off and went forward finding David Luquen who had slipped to the left flank and began a run straight into the Chula Vista box, defender Gilverto Perez-Lopez had no option but to take down Luquen as he cruised by him. A penalty and caution was awarded to the PROS.
The tide, fortune and a bit of justice had finally come to the 10 man PROS. David Luquen himself would be the one in charge taking the shot from the spot. A low, hard driven shot to cross to keeper Miguel David’s right side was met by the slightest touch of his fingers directing the size 5 onto the post and bouncing back into the middle of the box to be cleared away by a Chula Vista defender.
Once again, the PROS did not deflate and took immediate action and played on quickly. On the ensuing play, a cross was going back into the box and was met with a clear handball in inside the 18 by Perez-Lopez once again. Another penalty awarded and a second booking was shown.
In a span of a minute, pure jubilation on the away end was quickly thwarted by Perez-Lopez being sent off and Luan Oliveira converting from the spot smoothly crossing his body on the shot to beat Miguel David as he went down to his left.
The 80th minute gave us an equal kickoff once again, only this time, the match was tied at one and the men on the field down to 10 per side.
An appeal for a handball inside the PROS box was waved and a corner kick was the order. Jean Antoine made a spectacular save off the initial header from the corner. An outreached right arm of Antoine came up instinctively in middle of his goal, as he came down, the ball hung in the air in what seemed like an eternity, as Chula Vista’s Jaime Verdin was the only one around to get the knock off his head to send it to the back of the net for their second and likely match winner in the 88th minute.
The drama would not cease as three additional minutes were given.
In the second minute of stoppage time, a shot just outside the box was deflected by Nicklaw, as the ball slowly swirled back across the face of goal, Antoine made a heroic effort to get a slight tip on the ball but it was not enough as the sphere lazily danced its way towards the final goal line and was met with a kiss of the boot of Chula Vista’s Oscar Hernandez.
The PROS once again took the fighting charge forward with the time virtually expired to find one more brush with the opposing net. Tre Hays found the second strike for the PROS on a combative scrap inside the box.
The final whistle blew just as the players were taking place in their respective halves. The cup run was over as soon as it had begun.
A lovely affair that foreshadows future growth and movement for the sport of football in San Diego was the principle takeaway. A rough and jagged affair worthy of being named a derby was bestowed upon the massive crowd that gathered on a Wednesday night in San Diego.
Although the run is over for the Albion SC PROS, they managed to give a proper display of football surpassed by heart in the loss to worthy winners Chula Vista FC. PROS keeper Jean Antoine was in tears after the match showing just how much this meant to the squad.
Albion fought until the literal final whistle. For now, the focus shifts back to the Southwest Conference where the PROS have been on a run winning two consecutive matches. Albion will face 5th place Oxnard Guerreros FC, who are two points behind the PROS, at Del Sol Stadium on May 13.