Special thanks to John Battersby for contributing to this report
The Tartan Devils Oak Avalon, Pittsburgh’s top amateur club team that competes in the Greater Pittsburgh Soccer League, came up short in its bid to return to the U.S. Open Cup proper tournament, losing 0-0 (3-4 in penalty kicks) to the Rochester Lancers 2 in a second round qualifying match on Sunday in Rochester, NY.
“It was an unfortunate result because we felt good about this team. It might be one of the best teams we’ve ever fielded. There wasn’t much we were lacking,” Andy Kalas, Tartan Devils Oak Avalon (TDFC) manager, field captain and center back. “This result was good evidence that there are a lot of good players out there, and some good teams that we have to contend with all over.”
This match proved to be an entertaining scoreless draw, with both sides having periods of domination in a match where weather conditions were a factor.
After a four-plus hour trek to Western New York, and after warm-ups, the Tartan Devils had to play into a cold, fierce wind in the first half — and against a Rochester side that controlled play in the early going.
Among former Pittsburgh Riverhounds players that made the trip included goalkeeper Brendan Alfery, who provided a steady presence in goal, to post the shutout, as he worked well with the back line anchored by Kalas.
By the 30th minute though, the Tartan Devils central midfield trio of Neil Shaffer, Rob Vincent and Rob Hueler began to turn the tables of the match.
Kalas pointed out that Heuler was exceptional, mainly for his engine but his ability to move the ball under constant pressure as he worked in tandem with Shaffer and Vincent.
The Tartan Devils had their share of chances throughout the contest — and into the first extra period.
“Once we got past that first 30 minutes, we started to play our style, and were dangerous, especially in counter attack,” Kalas said. “We had a few one-on-one chances against the keeper but they were saved, and a few others, shots pushed wide of goal,”
If you were wondering, yes — that Vincent we are referring to is the former Riverhounds and DC United standout who retired in early 2018 from playing professionally. On Sunday, the Liverpool, England native who currently coaches for the Riverhounds Developmental Academy, played the full 120 minutes, providing the Tartan Devils with a quality box-to-box midfielder to pair up with Shaffer and Hueler.
With only two substitutes, TDFC utilized a pair of forwards, another former Hound, Anthony Virgara in the first half and Jesse Scheirer in the second half and extra time periods.
At the end of regulation, essentially on the last play in the 93rd minute, the Tartan Devils had a prime chance to close the deal with a penalty kick chance, but Lancers keeper William Banahene – a former Buffalo State University standout — came up with the timely save.
With the winds at their back in the start of the first overtime period, the Tartan Devils made a push in the first 15 minutes. Out of subs, and with a few players nicked up, after they came out for the second extra time period, they focused on defending its goal, and took their chances on penalties.
Alfery came up with some big saves as Lancers forward Peter Di Lorenzo proved to be a constant menace for the Tartan Devils for much of the afternoon.
The Lancers pulled through for the 4-3 win in the shootout — sending the Tartan Devils back to Pittsburgh with a second consecutive abbreviated Open Cup qualifying appearance.
“It was one of those matches where it was going to be which ever team could find a goal, but neither could,” Kalas said. “Anything can happen in PK’s, and we came out on the losing end. They were very deserving. A very good team with a lot of top-level players that have played in pros.”
Front Row (L-R): Matt Bischoff (Pitt/Rochester, NY/Substitute), Jesse Scheirer (Cal U/Peters/Substitute), Rob Heuler (Johns Hopkins/Bethel), Cory Werth (Pitt/Butler), Tyler Vukoder (College of Charleston/ Tega Cay, SC), Greg Annan (Duquesne/ New Jersey), Rob Vincent (Charleston/ Liverpool)
Back Row (L-R): Sam Luffy (Pitt/Central Catholic), Andy Kalas (Pitt/ Norwin), Matt Fonagy (RMU/Canon-Mac), Neil Shaffer (RMU/Beaver), Anthony Virgara (Marshall/Seton-LaSalle & Keystone Oaks), Brenden Alfery (RMU/Central Catholic/Riverhounds)
US OPEN CUP NOTES
- The Tartan Devils have now lost to Rochester in consecutive Open Cup qualifying rounds for the 2018 and 2019 tournaments. They made it into the proper tournament in 2017, winning in the first round against Derby City Rovers, winning on penalty kicks. They would lose in the second round vs eventual USL Champion Louisville City FC at Highmark Stadium.
- Previously known as the Rochester River Dogz, the Lancers second squad serves as a farm team of the National Premier Soccer League and Major Arena Soccer League 2 sides. The third round is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 17-18. If necessary, the fourth and fifth rounds are set for March 9-10, 2019 and April 5-6, respectively.
- The Lancers 2, will welcome World Class Premier Elite FC (Md.) at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y. Nov. 18 at 5 p.m.
- The Open Cup proper is scheduled to begin next spring — most likely in mid-May.