BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. – Michigan Bucks, an amateur team from the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, ousted the USL Pro’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Tuesday.
Captain Stewart Givens fired home a last-minute penalty past Riverhounds goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap to set up a third-round clash with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas complex in Pontiac on May 29.
The result was fully deserved as the Bucks pinned back their loftier opponents for most of the game with an aerial bombardment supplanted by positive ground play.
Riverhounds Head Coach Justin Evans sent his team out in a basic 4-4-2 formation. New York Red Bulls academy product Matt Kassel anchored the midfield alongside former Japanese J-League player Shintaro Harada.
Bucks Head Coach Gary Parsons also opted for a 4-4-2 but with greater flexibility. Kenny Uzoigwe led the attack with Steven Miller feeding off the main striker. Bim Ogunyemi pushed high on the left wing while the three other midfielders operated in sync.
Bucks Launch First-Half Onslaught
It took less than five minutes for Pittsburgh to discover what Michigan’s dominant attacking tactic was – high balls and long throws into the penalty area for the 6’4” Uzoigwe to contest. Gilstrap punched away a teasing cross from Thomas Catalano within the first minute, and Givens hurled a couple of threatening long throws toward Uzoigwe and 6’3” center-back Sebastian Harris.
Knowing what’s coming and defending it are two different things. Uzoigwe was entitled to expect one of his teammates to attack the back post when he flicked Givens’ throw across the 6-yard line on 13 minutes. Instead, the ball ambled to safety.
Michigan’s play wasn’t just Route One. Miller looked to stretch Pittsburgh’s back line by peeling out wide and Ogunyemi and Catalano drifted as Nathaniel Boyden and Scott Caldwell kept a tight core in the center of midfield. The two wingers combined on 14 minutes when Catalano sprinted onto Ogunyemi’s low cutback, but he couldn’t get his shot away.
Stefan Lundberg saved the Riverhounds on 21 minutes when he stopped Uzoigwe’s header on the goal line following Catalano’s corner kick. Those two combined again two minutes later from another Givens long throw. The ball just evaded Catalano at the back post following Uzoigwe’s flick.
Ogunyemi retrieved a loose ball on 24 minutes and floated a cross to the back post that Uzoigwe couldn’t direct under the bar.
The Bucks’ pressure was incessant as their midfield hounded Pittsburgh high up the field to prevent the hosts from building their attacks and Givens hurled any throw-in within 50 yards of goal into the box.
Gilstrap made an outstanding reflex save on 33 minutes to keep out Kevin Cope’s header. The overworked goalkeeper fielded another header from Uzoigwe three minutes later following Catalano’s deep free kick.
Catalano’s set pieces were causing as much trouble as Givens’ throws. The final corner kick of the first half ended with Ogunyemi flighting a second ball toward the unmarked Miller. His header sailed above Gilstrap’s crossbar.
Pittsburgh Adjustments Shift Balance Of Play
Evans made a double-substitution at half-time to try to get his midfielders and forwards on the ball. The anonymous Harada made way for David Leon on the left of midfield with Rich Costanzo moving to the center. Michael Seth replaced Dwayne Smith in attack.
Lundberg twice ran at Chad Barson and showed he had the beating of the Bucks’ 21-year-old left-back. That lifted the Riverhounds, who now looked to find Lundberg’s feet whenever possible. The Duquesne University product sailed past Barson on 55 minutes before sliding in a low cross that narrowly missed Seth and Darren Amoo.
Kassel found Lundberg on the right edge of Michigan’s penalty area on 59 minutes. The winger stepped inside on this occasion before bending a left-foot shot just wide of the far post.
Lundberg forced Bucks’ goalkeeper Adam Grinwis into a rare save on 69 minutes with a half-volley from the edge of the penalty area. Grinwis needed help from his defenders during a scramble a minute later when good build-up play by Lundberg and Costanzo set up Kassel. The midfielder’s close-range shot was blocked on a crowded goal line.
The Bucks survived another scare on 75 minutes when Kassel’s corner rebounded off a Michigan defender onto the crossbar.
Bucks’ Changes Spark End-To-End Finale
Michigan’s first-half exertions were beginning to take effect on the amateurs. Parsons spruced up his attack by bringing on Stefan St. Louis for the impressive but fading Miller on 66 minutes and replacing Ogunyemi with Zach Steinberger on 72 minutes.
St. Louis turned away from Riverhounds right-back Anthony Calvano near the halfway line on 77 minutes and raced toward Pittsburgh’s penalty area. The substitute side-stepped Louis Rolko to create space for a shot, but dragged his attempt wide of the far post. Nonetheless, his positive actions re-energized Michigan’s attacking game. Parsons made his final change on 84 minutes as teenager Nermin Crnkic replaced the exhausted 34-year-old Uzoigwe.
A sense of drama was building. Michigan’s bench sprang to their feet in unison when Pittsburgh were awarded a free kick at the edge of the penalty area following what looked to be a clean tackle on Kassel. Grinwis dived to smartly tip Costanzo’s blast for a corner.
Controversy arose on 86 minutes when the Riverhounds thought they had taken the lead. Lundberg’s cross found Calvano at the far post and his downward header whizzed toward the net. Grinwis’ flapping arm broke its trajectory before his flailing leg somehow scooped the ball away from the line.
Back came the Bucks. Crnkic’s dribble down the right wing forced a corner on 89 minutes that Pittsburgh could only clear to Steinberger near the edge of the area. The youngster controlled the ball on his chest before firing in a dipping half-volley that Gilstrap saved to his left.
Crnkic’s quick feet earned the Bucks’ last-minute penalty after he received a pass down the left from Barson and attacked a back-pedaling Rolko in the penalty area. Crnkic nudged the ball beyond the defender as Pittsburgh’s captain swung his right leg, sending the 19-year-old sprawling to the turf.
Givens coolly stepped up to wrong-foot Gilstrap and send his team into a high-profile third-round tie with four-time Open Cup winners Chicago.
Underdogs can have some advantages. For Michigan, this perhaps lay in knowing more about Pittsburgh’s game than the higher-division team knew about the Bucks.
Chicago Fire will have a better idea of what to expect next week. Combating the aerial threat posed by Uzoigwe and matching the work rate of Michigan’s zestful midfield will be key to ensuring that another upset doesn’t occur.