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PROVO — BYU men’s soccer hadn’t played in a U.S. Open Cup match in seven years.
On Wednesday night in the national tournament of U.S. Soccer’s first round, the Cougars made up for lost time at South Field with two bonus periods.
But in its third entry into the Cup’s first round, BYU couldn’t make it out past the first night.
Denver-area amateur side Harpo’s FC advanced to the second round of the Open Cup, 4-2, on penalty kicks after both teams played to a scoreless draw at South Field.
“I think we are clearly getting better as a team. We played better tonight than we did (last week),” BYU head coach Chris Watkins said. “We gave them a bit too much at the beginning of the game and came up short.
“Hats off to them. I think they were playing for overtime, and it works sometimes. If I was coaching them, I’d probably do the same thing.”
BYU, which was playing in its first cup since 2007, went behind in the shoot-out when Harpo’s goalkeeper Zac Gibbens made a dive save to his left on Pedro Vasconcelos’ attempt, the second of the round. Justin Geibel, Daniel Schene, Corey Cullen and Sawyer Frank each converted their penalties to clinch the match for Harpo’s, which advanced to play at USL side Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on May 20.
As the game came down to penalties, Watkins had a simple reminder for his team, which returned only three starters from a year ago.
“Relax, just take your time and hit the same shot you usually do. It’s no big deal,” Watkins said. “We’ve been practicing this in practice. Our guys knew who was shooting, and it was organized and all set up.
“In the end, we just didn’t have the experience on our team. We saw that with the nervousness of being here. We put it in the bank — but in the meantime, this one hurts.”
Dallin Cutler and Jacob Ence each converted a penalty for BYU.
But it was Gibbens’ penalty save that made all the difference. After conceding to Cutler, the veteran netminder made himself big before Vasconcelos, then dived strong to his net and punched the shot away from the goal.
“You try to pick up certain cues … and sometimes you have a feeling at it,” Gibbens said. “Sometimes it’s just a complete crap-shoot. With that one, I feel like I got a good read on the first shooter and then got us in a good place to try to pick some cues up. And it worked out.”
Jacob Miles nearly won it for BYU with about five minutes left in the second extra-time session. Miles took one touch inside the area, flipped up a shot toward the post, and watched his ball fly just past and ricochet behind the net.
After Ence made the BYU’s fourth penalty attempt after back-to-back misses by the Cougars, Sawyer clinched the win with a kick inside the left corner to send the visitors to the next round.
In extra time, Ence nearly bagged a goal after getting on the end of a counter attack jump-started by Vasconcelos in the 104th minute. Ence took a touch, fired from inside the 18-yard box, and saw his ball clear the crossbar by less than a foot.
“There’s a lot for us to take out of this one,” said Watkins, whose team returns to PDL play May 21 at Albuquerque Sol FC. “We were much smarter in the midfield. We did well with the time we had, connected maybe 500 passes. To lose a game like that, it happens maybe once in a hundred times. Just not today.”
Ence cruised down the field on a counter-attack three minutes into second-half stoppage time, but his effort was stopped by a slide tackle on the final play of regulation to keep the game scoreless.
Ence also had a shot in the 54th minute tucked under by Harpo’s goalkeeper Gibbens, who faced 13 shots in regulation.
“We came out at halftime wanting to push a lot more,” Watkins said after both teams had four shots each in the first half. “As they were getting more tired, we would push. The plan was working except for putting the ball in the back of the net. I’m proud of our guys in a lot of ways.”
Harpo’s took the momentum of a 2-0 win over KC Athletic in the play-in round of the tournament, and used it to come out strong, out-shooting the Cougars 4-2 in the first 20 minutes with the majority of possession.
The club team named for a pub in Boulder, Colorado became the only team in the competition to move to 2-0 after fellow play-in winner Cal FC lost to Ventura County Fusion on penalty kicks Wednesday night.
Harpo’s was one of three amateur teams to win Wednesday night in Open Cup play. PSA Elite routed PDL team Golden State Misioneros, 7-1, in a late match, and Chula Vista beat FC Tucson, 2-1, in extra time.
“I think it gave us plenty of positive momentum,” said Gibbens, whose team also hosts an indoor soccer team that trains with several Switchbacks players. “We knew BYU was going to be a very, very good side, and they were. All credit to them for playing their butts off. But we knew we had a job to do, and we had to stick with what we were doing — and it worked out.”