By the time midfielder Michael Lahoud stepped up to the penalty spot, FC Cincinnati was in a 3-0 hole.
Neither his team, nor visiting Minnesota United had managed to score in 120-plus minutes. The stalemate paved the way for the usual platitudes about a shootout being an unfair way to decide a closely-contested cup match.
The Major League Soccer Loons went on to win the U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match 0-0 (3-1 in penalties) over their United Soccer League hosts Wednesday night.
That shootout got off to a rough start for the Orange and Blue when keeper Spencer Richey managed to get fingers to Christian Ramirez’s opening attempt but couldn’t keep it out of the goal. Kenny Walker compounded matters by making the crossbar ring with Cincy’s first kick. After Colin Martin scored Minnesota’s second, Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth took his place in front of FCC’s Sem de Wit.
The announced crowd of 15,486 at Nippert Stadium had serenaded the netminder with chants of “Shuttle-worthless” earlier in the game. Unfazed, Shuttleworth parried de Wit’s waist-high effort while diving to his right, widening Minnesota’s advantage.
Centerback Brent Kallman made it a perfect three-for-three from the spot for the Loons, giving Lahoud his turn with the host’s cup run on the line. The Sierra Leonean did not disappoint, and he became the first FCC player to put a shot past Shuttleworth on the night.
Then Richey saved Collen Warner’s shot to keep Cincy’s hopes alive. In a game that at times seemed more in want of a victor than either team a victory, the moment may have caused doubt for some Loons.
If so, Shuttleworth was not among them.
Again moving to his right, Shuttleworth flashed a strong top hand to palm away Nazmi Albadawi’s shot and send Minnesota through to the Round of 16.
“In the shootout, you need your keepers to come out for you and I thought [Shuttleworth] did really well,” said Minnesota coach Adrian Heath. “He didn’t dive too early, didn’t make the mind up for the players. That’s one thing we said: ‘Make them beat you.’ And I think he did that well.”
The win improved Minnesota United’s all-time U.S. Open Cup record to six wins against seven losses and marked the first time the Loons’ have advanced beyond the fourth round.
For FC Cincinnati, an exhausting duel in which the second-tier side proved the equal of MLS opposition through extra time bore bitter fruit. Cincy reached the USOC semifinals after a Cinderella run last year, and this year defeated Detroit City and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds by a combined margin of 7-2 only to lose on penalties against Minnesota.
It was the Orange and Blue’s seventh game in 26 days, and fatigue was surely a factor.
Minnesota contended with a lack of fresh legs as well, as Adrian Heath was forced to bring on rookie Carter Manley for Eric Miller in just the 13th minute. The Loons’ training staff attended to one of Miller’s legs, and deemed a knock sustained by the fullback serious enough to remove him from the game.
Heath didn’t make a second substitution until extra time and kept his third in his pocket through the final whistle. This after only rotating in four players who had not started against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday night: Maximiano, Martin, Warner and Abu Danladi.
Heath said: “We have four or five who’ve hardly played any football. The three central midfielders have hardly played any football. For them to put the shift in they did was very good. I’ve been in this game a long time. Not many people thought we were going to win tonight. I’m pleased we’ve quieted one or two people down for a few days.”
The first half began at a measured pace, producing only eight shots. Minnesota kept a majority of the possession, while Cincinnati relied on its counterattack and created more half-chances, taking five shots to Minnesota’s three.
As both teams grew tired, the game opened up. A pair of Cincinnati midfielders began to threaten Minnesota’s defense, with Russell Cicerone and Corben Bone emerging as the most-likely candidates to either set up or produce the game’s first goal.
Both took shots from inside Minnesota’s 18-yard box. Bone could only billow the side netting. Cicerone went a step further to produce a reaction save from Shuttleworth.
Half-chances came and went. FCC forward Emery Welshman failed to direct an open header on goal from 12 yards out. A cross from Mears whistled just over the top of Danladi’s head. An animated Heath shouted for a penalty in the 110th minute when Cincinnati’s Dekel Keinan pushed down on Ramirez’s shoulders to contest a cross sent into the box.
The two teams combined for five blocks and countless clearances. Ultimately, Shuttleworth — as he’d done in his nine-save performance against Kansas City May 20 — got a result for the Loons.
“You just want to get through. That’s the name of the game. You win and advance or lose and go home,” Heath said. “It was a very difficult environment.
“But for our guys, I was really pleased with them because on the back of the weekend result, I thought we dug in and worked really hard for the result.”