Kevin Smolyn and Derek Antonini scored first half goals, and Vereinigung Erzgebirge withstood a second half surge from the United German Hungarians to win 2-1 in the second round of qualifying of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Temple’s Ambler campus Sunday afternoon.
The two historic rivals met for the second time in two weeks with VE taking the United Soccer League opener 2-0 at home during the club’s annual Oktoberfest last Saturday. The visitors from VE were fortunate to hold on as a Finn Reese penalty cut the lead to one and UGH hit the post in the closing seconds.
Both clubs entered the qualifying round with years of experience in the Open Cup format. UGH played in the Open Cup final in 1977 and 1993 and won the USASA Open Cup in 1999. VE qualified for the Open Cup in 2020, but their run was cut short by the competition’s cancellation due to Covid-19. VE last appeared in the competition in 2002 after reaching the USASA Open Cup final.
The visitors took control of the game from the jump and were rewarded in the 8th minute when defender Devlin Mettee crossed the ball off a quick restart that found its way through traffic to Kevin Smolyn and the VE forward tucked the ball inside the post past UGH keeper James Brett. The goal sparked some controversy as a VE player was fouled during the build-up and play was allowed to continue despite the referee giving the fouling UGH player a verbal warning, preventing his ability to get back into the play.
Antonini forced another save from Brett minutes later from a shot at close range, and after 20 minutes, the hosts began to assert themselves more in the game offensively.
Winger Sixtus Akinlosotu made several surging runs down the right side and in the 25th minute found a streaking Matt Sullivan just off the penalty spot, but Sullivan’s shot was blocked. VE doubled their lead 30 minutes in when Alec Neumann fed Antonini through to goal, and the striker poked it beyond Brett to give the visitors a cushion.
Down two goals, UGH responded by applying more pressure in the final 10 minutes of the half but had trouble finding the target, and VE’s Evan Vare had a shot saved by Brett in the final five minutes with Neumann’s rebound blocked for a corner. In the second half, UGH controlled the pace of the game, attacking down both sides while looking for Reese, who had strong hold up play and drew the attention of both VE central defenders Mike Reese and Mark Garrity. The hosts had numerous corners in succession, but each whipped ball into the box was denied by a VE defender and the ensuing sequences ended with missed shots.
UGH finally broke through in the 75th minute when defender Belal Mohamed was taken down in the box after finding good positioning on Chris Gomez while receiving an entry pass with his back to goal. Reese stepped up and converted the kick to close the gap to 2-1.
In the final 15 minutes, UGH pushed forward with more tenacity, forcing a number of saves by VE’s Tim Washam and almost pulled level when Kenny Lassiter’s shot barely missed over the bar. The hosts almost snuck the equalizer in the dying seconds off a corner when John Gravelle’s header smacked the post and was cleared from danger.
UGH coach Jay Karasow, who’s been a part of the local rivalry for nearly two decades as player and coach, thought the game was like many of the others he’d experienced.
“The chances were kind of slim for both sides,” he said after the game. “VE’s been in this position before where once they get the lead they know how win the game and close it out. Even though we had a lot of pressure in the second half, it was kind of bend but not break. They’ve been around enough to get through those games even when they’re under it a little bit. We just couldn’t get that second goal.”
Despite the loss, Karasow was pleased with his team’s response in the second half.
“We made some tactical changes and we brought on Jason Rocha who had a big impact on the second half and I think it was more so the players realizing we didn’t have a great first half. It’s a knockout competition, we just have to increase the level for the second forty-five and to the players’ credit they did that.”
VE coach Rob Oldfield was satisfied with the effort from his side in the first 45 but not in the second.
“I thought we were great in the first half,” he said, “and terrible in the second half. We got pinned and we held on for dear life. It was the first game with limited subs, so guys were lacking match fitness.”
Oldfield was also complementary of his rivals.
“UGH has improved, and you have to factor in that we just played them.”
VE is 9-0-1 in the last ten games against UGH and will meet again later this season in the USL as well as potential future cup matchups. With the win, VE will move on to the third round of the Northeast region, which will be played October 16-17.