Crystal Palace FC USA came agonizingly close last night to earning a US Open Cup semi-final date with DC United, but it was not to be. The Baltimore team’s hopes of continuing to represent USL-2 into the final four were dashed in a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat by defending US Open Cup champions, the New England Revolution.
When the Revs jumped out to a 6th minute lead, the 2,590 spectators at Veterans Stadium in New Britain, Connecticut, might have been forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that the MLS team was just getting warmed up with their lower-league opponents. Kenny Mansally was the scorer for New England, timing his run perfectly and latching onto a brilliant through ball from Brandon Tyler.
The goal sparked chants of “You know you’re just Palace lite” and “It’s not like playing Red Bulls!” from the boisterous New England supporters’ club, the Midnight Riders. Five minutes later though, the fans were cursing Taylor Twellman’s name after he missed a golden opportunity to double the Revs’ lead. The 29-time US Men’s National Team striker failed to connect properly on a free header directly in front of goal, sending the ball almost to the corner flag.
Anyone who had already written Crystal Palace off was soon obliged to reconsider as the visitors spent the next several minutes testing the New England rear-guard.
In the thirteenth minute, Bryan Harkin hustled to win back a ball he had just lost after a nice run down the left. The feisty Northern Irish midfielder surged towards the byline and sent a deft chip to Matthew Mbuta in the box. The young Cameroonian cushioned the ball beautifully on his chest and volleyed towards goal, but New England ‘keeper Doug Warren pulled off a magnificent blocking save. Another Dan Lader scoresminute later and it was Gary Brooks’ turn. Starting from the halfway line, Palace’s top goal-scorer made a driving run down the left channel, beating his marker for speed and cutting into the box. His near post effort beat Warren and began rolling towards the goal line, but Revs’ defender ALader celebratesmaechi Igwe was there to clear the danger.
Palace won a corner from the right on 19 minutes, which Bryan Harkin stepped up to take. Andrew Marshall made the early run, getting up well at the near post to flick the ball on towards a crowd of players at the far post. Nobody could get a clean touch on the bouncing ball and after a chaotic few seconds, it finally popped out. The ball fell to rookie midfielder Dan Lader, standing about 10 yards from goal. The Baltimore native quickly identified the only gap on the congested goal line and directed a low shot just inside the far post to bring the visitors level.
Larry Mark comes closeLarry Mark will rue not having given Palace the lead just two minutes later. He too was able to outpace his marker as he charged forward from midfield, but as he reached the edge of the box, he fired his shot two feet over the bar.
New England’s goal scorer was guilty of a glaring miss on 28 minutes after a low Taylor Twellman shot was partially blocked by Brian Rowland in the Palace goal. The deflected save went straight to Mansally standing five yards in front of an open goal. All he needed to do was tap it in, but incredibly he managed to pop it over the bar.
Revolution defender Amaechi Igwe got away with stamping on the foot of Gary Brooks in the 31st minute. The Jamaican forward received several minutes of treatment on the field from Palace trainer, Leslie Dawson. He was then carried from the field for additional treatment, returning to the game a further five minutes later.
Andrew Marshall blocks Taylor TwellmanLarry Mark came close again for Palace in the 33rd minute. The referee played a good advantage after Igwe’s next harsh tackle – for which he was subsequently booked – and the ball fell to Mark just inside the right corner of the box. His far post effort took a deflection and Warren was just able to push the ball round the post.
The remaining two efforts on goal fell to New England’s Twellman, but Rowland gathered comfortably on both and the whistle blew for half-time with the game poised precariously at 1-1.
The second half began as physically as the first had ended with Brian Rowland requiring three minutes to stem the bleeding from his nose after a collision with the Revs’ Pat Phelan in the 49th minute.
Five minutes later, Twellman missed yet another sitter, claiming he was pushed as he tried to head in from close range. Revs’ manager Steve Nicol was especially unhappy at that point, venting his frustrations on the match officials with his usual browbeating style.
As the half wore on, despite their domination of possession, New England was unable to muster much in the way of genuine goal-scoring opportunities. Palace were also lacking the finishing touch on a couple of decent counter-attacks.
Sergio FlroesExtra time seemed inevitable as the clock approached 90 minutes. Pat Phelan failed to convert on what would have been the game winner in the 89th minute as he climbed well just outside the six yard box and sent his header well over the crossbar.
The first of two fifteen minute periods of extra time continued in the same vein, with Palace defending in numbers as the Revs tried to convert possession into scoring.
A good long-range effort from Twellman six minutes in saw Rowland get down quickly to block the ball, but he didn’t get a proper grip on it, just managing to recover before the arrival of an on-rushing Revs player. A minute later, Mbuta was released down the right channel and surged into the box. The Cameroonian U-20 forward cut inside his marker and blasted a shot to the far corner but Warren got his hands up quickly to block it away.
With three minutes of the second period of extra time gone, Dan Lader bravely headed just wide of his own goal to clear a dangerous cross after a Revs free kick to the far post was headed back across the box.
A few minutes later, Palace’s Portuguese veteran Val Teixeira set off on a storming run up the right. He reached the byline and delivered a delicate chip into the box where Mbuta and recent substitute Sergio Flores had run into space. But Doug Warren alertly came off his line to claim the ball before either forward could get the necessary touch.
With only ten minutes left on the clock, the game opened up a little as each side looked for a last-gasp winner. Twellman’s shot with ten minutes of extra time remaining deflected off CeciThe team watches the penalty shoot-outl Lewis for a New England corner. Palace’s Andrew Marshall and player/co-manager Jim Cherneski – a late substitute for goal-scorer Dan Lader – both threatened late but the final touch was still missing. Sergio Flores was shown a red card for an alleged Val Teixeira after his penalty was well saved late tackle on Pat Phelan, setting up free-kick from a dangerous spot in the final seconds. After that effort flew high and wide, the referee blew the whistle and it was time for the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
The tension was palpable as Shintaro Harada, Bryan Harkin and Matthew Mbuta each scored from the spot, matching the successes of the Revs’ first three penalty takers. After Amaechi Igwe scored New England’s fourth penalty kick, Val Teixeira stepped up to try and keep Palace level. He struck it well but Warren guessed correctly, holding on to the ball at full stretch to give the defending champs the opportunity to win it with the next kick.
Rowland watched Castro’s winning penaltyThat chance fell to Mauricio Castro – brought on as a substitute for Twellman in the dying seconds of extra time – and he didn’t waste it, sending Rowland the wrong way and the crowd and players into jubilation.
The dejected Palace players still made the effort to thank their stalwart supporters who had made the trip up from Maryland, eventually trudging off the field to reflect on how close they came to another upset.
Palace Co-Manager Pete Medd was clearly disappointed after the defeat, but took comfort in the effort displayed by his team in executing the strategy he and fellow Co-Manager Jim Cherneski had laid out: “In the first half, we knew they wouldn’t be ready for our speed and it put doubts in their mind. Brooks, Mark and Mbuta did a good job of getting in behind their defense. We did everything according to plan except get that second goal – we had opportunities; we just couldn’t get that second one to go in. The longer we kept it close, the stronger we felt. In the second half they started to take the game from us, we were chasing the ball but one thing our guys have is a lot of pride, a lot of heart. We have some veteran guys on the team and we just stuck in there – we were definitely waiting for the counter attack in that second half and in the overtime, and we created a couple of chances. Then you go to penalties and it’s just a coin flip.”
Palace’s rookie midfielder and Baltimore native Dan Lader remarked on how the players felt after the game: “Yeah, we’re disappointed after getting that close, but we showed well and proved we can compete at the top level.” He went on to describe the goal that kept Palace in the match: “The corner was flicked on by Marshall and there was a big scramble inside the six. I was waiting outside and ended up being in the right place at the right time. I’m just glad I was able to finish when the whole goal was covered with bodies.” Lader, whose parents, girlfriend and other family members were in the stands on Tuesday night, added: “It was my first professional goal so that felt pretty good.”
“I usually try to read the run-up and some other things,” explained Palace’s goalkeeper on the night, former UMBC standout Brian Rowland, when asked how he chooses which way to dive for a penalty. “I’d been doing a lot of penalties in practice – maybe I did them too many times.” he said wryly. “I find righties easier to read than lefties, and they sent four lefties out of five.”
Pete and Jim contemplate defeatMedd heaped praise on his players: “I am so proud of our guys. They played with so much heart and it’s cruel that we lost the way we did. Our guys played with so much determination, pride, and effort that we didn’t walk off that field as losers, that’s for sure. We feel we deserved better. We had our chances to win the game and it just wasn’t meant to be but what we saw in this Cup run were the characteristics of a champion and I would put that team out against anyone.” He finished with a warning for the rest of the teams in USL2: “We have a bitter taste in our mouth right now and a feeling of unfinished business. We will carry this feeling into the league and make no mistake; we are out to win it. Coming this far in the Cup has only whetted our appetite.”
You can find links to press reports of Palace’s terrific quarter-final effort in our Coverage page.
Palace’s next game is a pivotal fixture at Cleveland, one of three teams sitting just above them in the league (although Palace has played three games less than each of those three teams.) The match takes place on Saturday July 12th at Krenzler Stadium, kicking off at 7:00pm.
Crystal Palace Line-Up: Brian Rowland, Andrew Marshall, Shintaro Harada, Mike Lookingland, Paul Robson, Bryan Harkin, Dan Lader (Jim Cherneski 114), Pat Healey (Val Teixeira 75), Larry Mark (Cecil Lewis 80), Matthew Mbuta, Gary Brooks (Sergio Flores 80)
New England lineup: Doug Warren, Rob Valentino (Brandon Manzonelli 84), Sam Brill, Amaechi Igwe, Chase Hilgenbrinck, Chris Tierney, Pat Phelan, Brandon Tyler, Khano Smith (Joe Germanese 67), Kenny Mansally (Kheli Dube 103), Taylor Twellman (Mauricio Castro 120)
Referees: Hilario Grajeda, Claudio Badea, Russell Wolf, Niko Bratsis