In its first bid to earn an elusive spot in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup proper tournament after winning in the first two rounds of qualifying, local amateurs Steel FC came up just short in the third round, losing to Christos FC in Maryland on Sunday.
Two first half goals by Pete Caringi III in the 4th and 24th minutes put Christos firmly in control of the match through the half, and despite a furious comeback effort that included two second half goals from Steel FC, Christos held off a challenge from the determined Open Cup hopefuls from Pittsburgh.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The first goal came early after a scramble in the box after a cross — and then mayhem ensued. A Christos FC player fell over inside the goal box, remaining on the ground with his back to the play. With Steel FC keeper Brendan Birmingham at the top of the six yard spot, a shot came from the top of the box hitting the downed player in front of the goal line.
The ball then ricocheted to Caringi who poked it in. Steel FC contested the goal, but to no avail.
“They got that early goal — and it really cost us,” Brian Luchini, Steel FC’s manager said. “They had the majority of possession in the first half but we had a few chances on the counter.”
Steel FC’s best chance of the first half may have come when Max Flick, who scored from distance in his team’s 3-1 win against Tartan Devils FC in the second round, ripped a shot from 20 yards out. It took a deflection, hit the crossbar, and went over the top for a corner kick. Matt McDyer had another chance with his left foot but put it over the bar.
Following those chances — a Christos FC cross was converted by Caringi for his fifth goal in the past two Open Cup matches in the 24th minute.
Trailing 2-0 at the half, Steel FC needed to do something to get back into the match.
“We changed our strategy at halftime and pressed higher up the field going with two center attacking midfielders pressing and one sitting back instead,” Luchini explained. “This helped a lot and caused turnovers in their midfield.”
Indeed, Steel FC would mount a furious second half comeback effort. In the 54th minute, its midfield’s pressure paid off — with a counter that extended into the final third when Matt Bischoff charged down the left flank in possession of the ball, then whipping in a ball that found the feet of Brandon Siringer.
Siringer ripped a shot that was deflected to Flick. With Flick’s back to goal, he laid the ball off to Ramsay Hartley at the top of the box, who one-timed a left footed shot and found the keepers left hand, but had enough pace to land into the back of the net.
Just as Steel FC started to gain momentum, Christos FC countered in the 63rd minute — and on the back end of the cross, Steel FC’s center back Eric Vunovic’s attempt to clear it ricocheted off him, and into the back of the net for an own goal.
“At 3-1 it was another hill to climb but the boys did not give up,” Luchini said. We were still having decent spells of possession, were throwing numbers forward.”
In the 83rd minute, Steel City cut the lead again after a nice build-up.
It started when Rob Heuler found Ethan Shula in the back line. Without immediate pressure, Shula drove up the middle of the pitch and played a nice pass to Bischoff who was sitting on their back line.
Bischoff laid the ball off to Hartley who played a perfect through ball between their center back and RB and found Matt McDyer making a run up the left side of the pitch. McDyer took a touch, cut back to the middle of the field and ripped a right footed shot near post and past the keeper.
With 7 minutes plus stoppage left in the game, and with Steel FC carrying the momentum they almost equalized when Siringer’s shot from the right side went just over the crossbar.
That would be Steel FC’s best chance in the late moments to get the equalizer, as they ran out of time.
“It was a good experience,” Luchini reflected on Monday. “Christos is a great team and they played well. It is a shame to end like this, but we will be back and with this experience under our belt we plan to make another run next year.”