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Road to 2022 Open Cup begins for Tri State lower division clubs

Westchester United tops New Jersey Alliance while rest of field continues to be sorted

Photo by Peter Bonilla

Two months ago Christopher Ribet was playing for a national championship with the Los Angeles Force in the National Independent Soccer Association. On Sunday night he scored two critical goals and suffered a brutal injury for a semi-professional side in the first weekend of U.S. Open Cup qualifying. His strikes were the first of five unanswered that lifted Westchester United F.C. over fellow United Premier Soccer League side New Jersey Alliance FC, 5-2.

WUFC now moves onto the Third Qualifying Round (because U.S. Soccer decided East Region teams don’t play a first round) which is scheduled for October 16-17.

“We all know the importance of this cup,” Ribet said after the match, with gauze wrapped around his head. “I’ve heard of the Open Cup for many years and to be able to play out here… this is beautiful. It really is beautiful. I’m happy to be a part of this. This is honestly the beauty of the game.”

Head coach Antonio Corrado was just as happy as his main goal scorer from the night. His young team had been challenged and went on to score five unanswered goals against the currently undefeated team leading their UPSL conference. But at the same time he knew that same team was not going to forget this and he was already looking ahead.

“If we were going to play them later on in the season this would have been a really good way to skyrocket into the next game,” Corrado said to OaM after the match. “But unfortunately they are our opponent (this) weekend. So what I think we need to do is settle back down, we need to have a really good week of training, and we need to refocus, re-energize, and come back to Athenia Steel Park ready to go.”

Founded in 2014, the side only began playing competitive adult amateur soccer last year. The team is competing in it’s third UPSL season (with the league having separate Spring/Fall campaigns) and it’s roster is a mix of players all looking to springboard into something greater. Former pros like Ribet and former Puerto Rico national team goalkeeper Ángel Molinari play alongside college talent on the only team from Westchester competing in the qualifying rounds..

Alliance opened the match as the dominant team. The home side used their player’s speed and ability to create chances to disrupt Westchester’s attack. Within eleven minutes NJAFC had taken two corners and had two convincing chances. Ali Lakhrif nearly got the first goal in the fourth minute when his shot from the left went over the keeper’s head but trickled out wide right.

Eventually Alliance’s fast breaks paid off and one of their players was taken down from behind just inside the box. Toheeb Shodimu converted from the spot in the 12th minute and the team kept rolling from there. Despite a yellow card and WUFC moving a fifth player to their backline, New Jersey still played aggressively. In the 27th minute Jose Huerta scored a slick shot into the opposite corner past a diving Jose Ocampo to make it 2-0.

With his team down Ribet explained he knew the group never believed they were out of it. But the creeping doubt was going to be a problem unless they struck back. For his own sake he thought back to earlier this year during the NISA Spring Semifinal he played with LA Force.

“We played that semifinal game and we were down 2-0 to (Chattanooga FC),” he explained. “I’ve always known that 2-0 is the worst lead to possibly have. So I knew that we were going to come back so long as they didn’t score another one.”

For the rest of the first half his team did just that. Slowly, almost without warning, NJAFC stopped getting into United’s end. The first part of the half could best be described as both teams running the field’s length continuously. The second half was a deeper battle for possession in the middle of the field. The only thing more intense was the battle on the sideline as Corrado voiced displeasure at the nearby football game having distracting whistles. NJAFC’s head coach Adam Pawlik responded by hiring insults while also motivating his own boys.

Just before halftime WUFC got their break and made the most of it when Ali Sami Deeb fed a deep free kick from the left side into the box. Ribet jumped over two defenders and redirected the ball to cut the deficit in half.

“I’m not gonna lie, that header glanced off my head (and) the keeper didn’t get it,” he said. “It was a beautiful little header. I knew after that that I was not gonna stop, I’m going to keep going.”

NJ had one more great chance in the 34th when Christian Libreros curreled a free kick towards the top right corner. The jump and stretch Ocampo did to knock the ball out of play may have saved his team’s USOC run.

The momentum was Westchester’s to lose and everyone knew that. Both teams mentioned during their halftime talks and Corrado knows Ribet’s goal came at the perfect time.

“That goal at the end definitely gave us a wake up call. I think it put us back into the competition,” he said. “Our halftime speech was very clear; ‘we have to go out there and play (this as if it was) a championship game.’ And we need to just have the determination, fire, to go out and win.”

From that point it was a completely different game. In the first five minutes of the half New Jersey’s previously fast pace was replaced with poor ball handling. The team struggled to finish passes and was constantly intercepted in their own end. The one time it did enter Westchester’s end was an omen to the tying goal.

From just inside his team’s own end Deeb launched a kick downfield towards the center of the box. Ribet, while under pressure, recovered the ball and slipped it past the keeper to tie the game in the 50th minute.

The game never looked back and the faces on the sideline did not boast much conscience. If New Jersey was ever going to win the game it had to be before Ribet’s second goal. Not even the addition of NJAFC’s leading scorer Michael Bello in the 60th minute could stop the bleeding.

Bello, who played professionally for New Amsterdam FC in NISA, previously won trophies this year with Alliance and FC Motown.

Westechester kept up the attack and two goals in quick succession gave them the dominating lead. Adetayo Adefioye capitalized on a poor NJAFC pass he intercepted and slammed it past the keeper’s right side in the 59th minute. The visitors immediately stole the ball back off the kickoff, shot the ball wide, and had Chris McGovern redirected a corner kick with his right foot to make it 4-2 in the 61st minute.

Watching the complete transition of power Corrado noted each member of the team, from the eleven on the field to those on the sideline, had to believe they were coming back in this match. None of the goals were single player efforts and he thinks the entire was only because each one of the guys bought into the team.

“As much as it’s important to have individuals, this was a team effort. I think a lot of guys need to buy into that mentality. That we have to win as a team and every single player has a role. And tonight, every single player did their role and did their job.”

Things did get scary in the 74th when Ribet collided with a New Jersey defender. The Long Beach, California native noted afterwards that he was happy he remembered the ordeal at all saying he led in with his head to try and get a 50/50 ball. The defender got it first and clashed against him, causing some bleeding and his legs to be shaky for a while as he immediately got subbed out.

“Glad it isn’t anything as serious as a concussion,” Ribet smiled in a joking mood as his teammates gave him some grief in the postgame scrum. “I think our guy said it was more deep than it is stretched. I’m not a fan of needles or stitches so I’m glad I don’t have to get any of those. But as long as the guy (is) okay, I’m okay, I’m walking out of here on two feet and he is too.”

The game continued on, with an extended stoppage time and the NJAFC coaching staff getting repeatedly warned for vocal abuse. By the time Teofilo Chavez made it 5-2 in the 90+2’ the fate of the match was already known.

Westchester now awaits to see who they’ll face next month in the competition’s third round. While they still have league play to contend with in both UPSL and the newly created NISA Nation, Ribet is ready to continue this story.

“To be able to come back in this tournament, one that is so notorious and prestigious, and really make a name for ourselves and be onto the next round, with ambitions of going onto the next one, and the next one, and the next one? Bring it on! I’m here, I’m ready!”

“I’ve come here to score, I’ve come here to put the ball away, put the ball in the back of the net. I’m not done. I have a lot more goals I need to score and objectives I’m trying to reach… I have more ambitions and I’m a very hungry person. I got a full plate and I’m ready to eat.”

***

If you’re curious how the other locals did during U.S. Open Cup qualifying, here’s the brief tl;dr with most information courtesy of TheCup.us:

Both New York Amsterdam II and EFA Metro forfeited their Saturday matches, allowing New York Pancyprian Freedoms and Jackson Lions FC to advance. The two departing teams join four others in forfeiting with many blaming U.S. Soccer’s new player registration system. Typically players born in the U.S. are already registered for the tournament from previous years. However the federation contacted teams, reportedly one week prior to kickoff, asking for each player to be registered, with most full rosters not being fully cleared prior to kickoff.

The three time tournament champion New York Greek Americans fell to UPSL side Oyster Bay United FC, 0-0 (3:2 on pks), on Sunday. The advancing team only had nine field players and two goalkeepers rostered with one of the latter moving to forward for the match.

The final New York state team in the competition was also the only one to actually win it’s match. IASC Boom (Rochester, NY) defeated UPSL side Pittsburgh City United FC, 4-0, in central Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Finally across the pond one more “Red Bull” is advancing in the F.A. Cup. Ninth tier Jersey Bulls FC advanced to the Third Qualifying Round after beating eighth tier Sutton Common Rovers, 3-2, on Tuesday. The team tied the Rovers on the road last weekend, 2-2, forcing a replay mid-week. Despite normally hosting the second leg the Bulls were not allowed to due to rules surrounding offshore clubs and short turnaround times. Despite the hurdle the team won at Sutton thanks to an MVP performance from leading goalscorer Sol Solomon, assisting on two goals before scoring the game winner with a dirty back heel. The Bulls, who we introduced you to earlier this month, took home £3,375 (about $4,600) for winning and will play eighth tier Chertsey Town F.C. in the next round. The group is two wins away from the competition proper.