At 12:35 p.m. on a cold, cloudy afternoon in the south of Boston, GPS Omens and Safira FC kicked off for the third qualifying round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The Omens went up early with a goal by former Rochester Rhinos player Stefan Defregger. In the 31st minute, Safira answered, and Vander Luiz Bellettini was able to bury a rebound off GPS keeper’s initial cross-net save. In the 74th minute, similar to their first goal, GPS scores on a through ball from Smriko to Defregger. As the clock ran out, with just a minute to play, an unmarked Safira Vidal tied up the game 2-2 off another saved deflection. Overtime saw shared possession, multiple shots, and big saves from the keepers. But ultimately, this game went to penalty kicks, where Safira outlasted GPS 7-6 to advance.
Safira FC now move themselves one step closer to qualifying for the US Open Cup for the first time, while GPS is denied a shot at qualifying for the fifth time in the last seven years.
For the first 10 minutes of play, Safira FC dominated possession with no shot attempts. But in the 10th minute, Omens’ Harris Smriko stripped the ball in the midfield to play Stefan Defregger in between two defenders for a one-on-one with the keeper. He finished to the back post and put GPS up 1-0 early.
Omens showed some life after the goal with their midfield winning 50-50 balls and putting immediate pressure on the Safira backline, finding Pat Murray, Jake Johnson and Defregger in and around the 18. But an organized Safira stayed tight and organized, leaving the Omens with little space to take shots.
Twenty minutes in, Safira found some connections up the left flank with combination play getting Vander Luiz Bellettini up into the attack. In the 21st minute, left forward Hugo Bomfim gave Safira their best opportunity thus far from 22 yards out, kicking a hard, low driven shot off the dribble-but GPS goalkeeper Jason Katz tipped it out, hitting the post and giving the ball to the Omens back line to clear.
In similar Safira fashion, a strong GPS backline anchored by Harry Copeland and Brill Samuel with Jake Edwards and Pumelele Maqubela on the flanks controlled multiple challenges from Safira forwards. With two strong Safira corners, Katz made two impressive saves tipping the first over the net and coming up big in the air off his line to make the catch for the second half way though the first half.
Safira continued to put heavy pressure on the Omens, with a dangerous counter attack opportunity by Safira’s Lage Silva finding the forward in, but the Omens back line was able to clear the ball out of trouble. Shortly after, Safira’s Carvalho slotted the ball with great pace as Katz dove across the entirety of goal line to redirect the ball with his fingertips to the opposite side. An unmarked Safira left back, Bellittini, came in with force to drive the ball to the back of the net, tying up the game 1-1 in the 31st minute.
With nine minutes left in the first half, Omens had a good opportunity with Defregger stealing a mishandled ball from Safira’s midfield, leaving a shot opportunity for Pat Murray that he kicked wide of the net. In the 42nd minute, Safira had yet another opportunity to put pressure on Katz, who redirected a ball and made a nice save on an incoming shot to alleviate the pressure. Destin Pierrot made a slide tackle on the counter attack and stayed down with an injury as the clock ran out on the half. He was able to remain in the game.
At the half, the score was tied 1-1. Safira looked confident, playing aggressive soccer and getting the vast majority of calls in their favor. The Omens regrouped, addressing their multiple opportunities and a need to convert.
With the second half underway, Safira applied pressure right out the gate with Bomfim forcing Katz to make a full extension dive, getting both hands on the ball and keeping Safira at bay.
As the half rolled on, possession was even, but the Omens struggled to move the ball upfield. GPS Scott Prozeller and Jake Hyland provided some composure in the midfield to connect lines.
With 32 minutes to play, Safira had a pair of corners beautifully placed in the box. Katz once again came up big, owning his box and punching both balls out of danger. The Omens countered, but Safira keeper Vilela was able to force Defregger to take an early shot, and the ball was blocked by a Safira defender.
Both teams continued to create chances and both back lines weathered dangerous storms. On a counter attack, the Omens’ Smriko sent a cross in to Defregger, who had a well-placed flick-on header to Jake Johnson. Johnson, who dominated field coverage as a defender, placed a shot deep to the far corner. Safira keeper Vilela dove, making a great save to deflect the ball off frame for a GPS corner. Just minutes later, GPS was able to slot the ball through two Safira defenders leaving GPS’ Derek Stenquist with a one-on-one opportunity. But Vilela was able to come up with a big save to keep Safira in the game.
The goalkeeper for Safira FC, Patrick Vilela makes a save in the PK shootout against GPS Omens in the 2019 US Open Cup Qualifying tournament. Photo: Chris Aduama | Aduama.com
GPS: Scott Prozeller (Saved)
Safira: De Almedia Correia (Goal)
GPS: Defregger (Goal)
Safira: Bomfim (Goal)
GPS: Hyland (Goal)
Safira: Teixeira (Miss)
GPS: Edwards (Saved)
Safira: De Matos (Goal)
GPS: Smriko (Goal)
Safira: Guimaraes (Miss)
GPS: Stenquist (Goal)
Safira: Andrade (Goal)
GPS: Pumelele (Saved)
Safira: Vidal (Saved)
GPS: Samuel (Goal)
Safira: Bermudez (Goal)
GPS: Copeland (Goal)
Safira: Vilela (Goal)
GPS: Abdu (Miss)
Safira: Bellitinis (Goal)
After 10 rounds of penalty kicks, Safira would prevail, 7-6.
Safira FC manager Andre Ferriera kept his team motivated through full time, extra time and PKs by telling his players to remain focused, and appreciate a second chance.
“After the late goal in the game, I told my team before extra time, ‘You have been given a second chance by the soccer gods!’ and we can’t waste a second chance,” said Ferriera. “Then when we go to PKs, I said it again, ‘we’ve been given another chance by the soccer gods, but anything can happen in PK’s, so we have to do our job and finish the ball.’”
He also commended GPS on their dedicated play, praising, “They’re a really good team. Any team could have won this game. If a mistake is made by a team, a goal is scored, because this is the level of play. Either team would have represented Massachusetts very well.”
Looking forward to their next Open Cup game in the spring, Ferreira smiled, “For now, we have time to rest up and get ready for the next round.”
Maggie Crowe also contributed to this report