OPEN AND SHUT CASE Pancyprians eliminated from Open Cup
By Dylan Butler
BigAppleSoccer.com Associate Editor
Germantown, Md. – The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has been dominated by Major League Soccer, with its teams winning the last eight titles and 11 of the last 12. But the last club that won back-to-back Open Cup crowns is the New York Pancyprian Freedoms in 1982 and 1983.
While the Queens-based USASA Region I finalists didn’t have their sights set on becoming the first amateur side to win the title in 14 years, the Pancyprian Freedoms were confident they could beat USL Second Division side Real Maryland.
And, by all indications, they should have. On goals by veterans Julio Cesar Dos Santos and Matia Damiani, the Pancyprian Freedoms were five minutes away from a second-round match against the Carolina Railhawks of the USL First Division and one step closer to a potential meeting with an MLS club in the third round.
But Real Maryland scored the late equalizer and avoided a penalty kick shootout with the winner in the final three minutes of overtime to beat the Pancyprian Freedoms, 3-2, Friday night at the Maryland Soccerplex.
“We gave it to them, a gift,” Pancyprian Freedoms coach Lukas Lukovic said. “We’re supposed to win the game, we’re the better team, we make a few mistakes. We give it to them, a big gift.”
The Pancyprian Freedoms and Hollywood United were the final two amateur clubs remaining in the competition and the Freedoms probably should have still been in the Open Cup. But things started to go awry in the 83rd minute when Panagoitis Halkidis was sent off for his second bookable offense in less than two minutes.
Down a man, Pancyprian Freedoms tried to bunker down defensively, but Real Maryland equalized off a set piece. Freedoms goalkeeper Dilmer Martinez spilled Dennis Alas’ free kick in front of the net and the rebound was headed in by Nilson Perez, sending the small, but lively crowd into a frenzy.
Alas scored the winning goal in similar fashion, pouncing on a rebound in front of goal and putting it past Martinez for the eventual game-winner for Real Maryland, which is in its inaugural season and features former MLS veteran Ronald Cerritos who played the entire 90 minutes.
“It would have been great going down to North Carolina. We can battle,” Pancyprian general manager George Haldikis said. “The only difference is (Real Maryland) practices on a daily basis. We only practice twice a week.”
Dos Santos put the Pancyprian Freedoms in front on 23 minutes, capitalizing on a Real Maryland defensive miscue. Muner Hassen tied the match in the 56th minute, heading in Alas’ free kick. But the visitors came right back 12 minutes later on a goal by Damiani, one of four former St. John’s players on the Pancyprian Freedoms roster.
“We get to test ourselves against a really good side and I think we held our own,” said St. John’s assistant coach Marc Reeves, who bravely played the entire 120 minutes despite suffering a nasty cut to the back of his head in the first half. “We just got a little unfortunate in the end. It’s a shame because I would have loved to get one more trip in down to Carolina. It would have great, but it’s not to be.”
The match was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed because of inclement weather. The Pancyprian Freedoms had a round-trip from hell, with three separate bus breakdowns. The final one happened on the Verrazzano Bridge and livery cabs had to be called to bring players home in the early morning hours Wednesday.
There were no transportation issues Friday night and the bus ride back to New York wasn’t nearly as long. But there was still plenty of time for the players to wonder what might have been had the Pancyprians advanced.
“We had our chances, to be honest with you,” Jeff Matteo said. “But we got a red card and gave up a goal in the 85th minute. Honestly I thought we played pretty good. The game could have gone either way.”