BOYDS, MARYLAND — D.C. United suffered a bit of déjà vu on its way to victory against North Carolina FC Tuesday during the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It was the second time in three years that United went to penalty kicks against a lower-division side.
In 2016, United fell to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0-0 (3-4 on penalties) at the Maryland SoccerPlex. This year’s result boded better for the MLS club thanks to a second-round save by goalkeeper David Ousted and a fifth-round goal by Bruno Miranda.
“Welcome to the early rounds of the Open Cup,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We survived. We had some pretty good performance from us, but there were also some guys that I was looking for more out of.”
United hosted the USL side on a quiet night in front of an announced 3,118 people. NCFC had a small contingent of fans with them.
In the 25th minute, United found its noise. Rushing into the final third, defender Joseph Mora crossed a ball in from the left side and it ricocheted off the head of NCFC defender Connor Tobin. Yamil Asad connected first before midfielder Ian Harkes rebounded the ball into the net.
Due to United’s impending road trips to Seattle and Toronto for MLS matches, Olsen took midfielder Paul Arriola off the pitch and left Durkin in the defensive midfield position. Midfielder Luciano Acosta entered the match in the 72nd minute for the young homegrown Durkin. Junior Moreno dropped back into Durkin’s defensive midfield position.
“I wanted to make sure [Arriola] had time to get fresh for the weekend,” Olsen said. “That led to that decision, which we thought out before hand. That was going to happen regardless of the game … I probably could have made a better decision on one of the two subs that would maybe have dealt with the game in regular time.”
Despite only shooting once in the first half, North Carolina rained shots sporadically throughout the second half. Each time the shots went wide left, wide right or over and out of danger. North Carolina finally broke through when forward Marios Lomis finished a corner to collect the equalizer. Prior to Tuesday, Lomis played in 10 matches, scored three goals and recorded two assists.
“We were fairly consistent throughout the night, but they made it difficult,” Olsen said. “They were slightly dangerous on the counter. It was really our inability to at time to unlock a pretty organized group.”
The remainder of the the match was locked in a 1-1 stalemate. After 120 minutes of soccer, United and NCFC went to penalty kicks.
United lined up Asad, Darren Mattock, Acosta, Harkes and Miranda. Harkes was the only United player to miss. Ousted made a huge save against NCFC’s Kyle Bekker, who walked back to his team followed by a string of taunts from the remaining United fans.
“I try to read the player that comes up,” Ousted said. “It is just about trusting that gut feeling and getting a little bit of luck.”
In the fourth round, NCFC defender Peabo Doue hit his shot off the crossbar, which left the door open for Miranda to close the game for United.
“We had to stay positive and know our time was coming,” Harkes said. “I was disappointed not to score mine, but thankfully [Ousted] and [Miranda] saved us and we got through it.”