Former LaSalle captain Johnny Ciarlante’s stoppage-time header gave Vereinigung Erzgebirge a 2-1 win over a depleted Philadelphia Lone Star FC side in the opening round of U.S. Open Cup qualifying Sunday afternoon at the VE club in Warminster, PA. With the win, VE advances to the second round of qualifying to be taken place the weekend of October 15-16.
“We lost to them in a few cups the past few years,” Ciarlante said after the win, “so it feels good. We’ve got some younger guys in here that are helping us a lot.” Lone Star defeated VE 2-1 in extra time during last year’s Open Cup third-round qualifying and crashed out the next round to Brockton FC United, just one step away from entering the Open Cup proper. “That was a battle,” Ciarlante said, “it’s like that every time we play.”
Ciarlante’s goal came off a Patrick Murphy throw-in as the game appeared headed to extra time again, following an entertaining 90 minutes of back and forth action. Murphy, the former Drexel captain, had a strong game, going head-to-head with Lone Star’s Kanibah Kutu-Akoi, who scored the winner in last year’s matchup. But it was Murphy’s long throw that found Ciarlante at the edge of the six for the winner this time. “I made a career off my head,” Ciarlante said, “so it’s just how it goes. It could have been any of us. Just the right spot.”
Despite sitting back and absorbing possession, Lone Star had several counters that pressed the VE defense, including an early chance by Kutu-Akoi that forced Steve Paul to make a fingertip save. Midfielder Alvin Dahn, former St. Joe’s Player of the Year, and single-season points and assist leader, was the creative spark for the visitors, launching several through balls to striker Bill Walleekendeh and winger Preston Gray.
VE controlled the ball for most of the half with Steve Neumann and Santiago Castro pulling the strings, but the hosts could only muster a few chances off restarts midway through the opening half. Lone Star had two good looks before the break, with Gray getting in behind but unable to push the ball past Paul. A minute from the half, Deekai Gbonimy cut inside from the wide left, but his shot sailed inches over the bar.
Kevin Smolyn scored first for the hosts five minutes into the second half. The VE winger fired home a pass from Angelo Dambalas following a turnover outside the box, and VE appeared to cruise for the next ten minutes until Lone Star equalized against the run of play. Dahn got in behind on a pass from midfielder Jerry Slueue and beat Paul to the far side. VE regained momentum but was unable to find a winner. Smolyn smashed the bar in the 69th minute and Derek Antonini made several surging runs down the left side that VE couldn’t convert. The game appeared headed to extra time until Ciarlante’s heroics.
VE may also want to thank Mayor Jim Kenney for the first-round win. A day of strong attacking soccer may have been marred by the Philadelphia Unity Cup quarterfinals, which took place all day Sunday. Nearly the entire Lone Star quad played the opening quarterfinal between Liberia and Sierra Leone, a game that went to extra time before Sierra Leone won on penalties. When asked about the difference in the game, Lone Star coach Fatoma Turay pointed to the morning game. “Just not having our best players,” he said about the difference. “That’s all. If we have our best team, we know what we can do.”
Lone Star still put in a valiant effort and was able to create enough chances on the counter to keep the game on its edge. “Even from the first half, we had a couple of chances,” Turay said about his team’s success on the counters, “that’s what we like to do, move the ball, and get it from the strong side to the weak side and then that’s isolation.” Lone Star, who concluded the USL2 season, will be back in action in the UPSL this weekend and could see VE again in both the USASA Open and Amateur Cups beginning in the fall. “Congratulations to them,” Turay said. “They deserve it. I wish them all the best moving forward.”
For VE coach Rob Oldfield, his team’s success came down to limiting Lone Star’s chances and attacking the box. “We looked really dangerous on set pieces,” he said, “It felt like we were going to get something from a corner. Murphy’s throw-in is a weapon.”
VE will await the draw for the next round of action. Joining VE will be West Chester United, who beat the Ukrainian Nationals 2-1 on a late winner. As well as Lancaster Elite who beat Lancaster city 3-2 in double overtime, and United German Hungarians who beat Kensington.