This time, the weather was perfect for the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal clash between Miami FC and FC Cincinnati. Not a drop of rain. No thunder. No lightning.
Unfortunately for the record crowd of 10,415 fans at FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium on Wednesday night — many of them using their soggy tickets from the postponed July 12 rainout — the home team was also missing its offensive thunder for much of the game and lost 1-0.
Miami, a team known for its crisp passing and scoring, did neither in the first half. Late in the half, after Miami FC lost the ball yet again, coach Alessandro Nesta, one of the greatest defenders of all time, got so frustrated he angrily threw a plastic cup to the turf.
Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati, a defensive-minded team that hadn’t allowed a single goal through four U.S. Open Cup games, made more dangerous runs than Miami and outshot Nesta’s men 8-3 before intermission. The score was tied 0-0 at the break.
“First half we were very flat, didn’t play well at all,” Miami midfielder Mike Lahoud said. “Second half, they literally took one shot and scored. That’s the Open Cup in a nutshell. Credit to them. They defended for their lives. It’s all gone our way until this evening, a very difficult pill to swallow, and you could see how crestfallen we all were.”
Miami came out more aggressive in the second half and had several scoring chances, including a trio of corner kicks over a seven-minute span. It outshot Cincinnati 8-5 after halftime.
But the visitors took the lead in the 68th minute on a goal by Senegalese forward Djiby off a cross by Justin Hoyte, and that was all they needed.
Djiby has scored all four goals for Cincinnati in the Open Cup.
Powerful Kwadwo Poku had a chance to tie it up for Miami FC in the 89th minute, but his close-range shot was deflected by Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hilderbrandt, who got a foot on it and pushed it wide as Miami’s Vincenzo Rennella made a futile attempt to save the rebound.
FC Cincinnati, which plays in United Soccer League, will host Major League Soccer team New York Red Bulls on Aug. 9 and become the first non-MLS team to reach an Open Cup semifinal since the Richmond Kickers did it in 2011. They are sure to get a huge crowd at Nippert Stadium, where they drew 32,287 for their Round of 16 game against the Chicago Fire, the second-largest crowd in tournament history.
Miami and Cincinnati both play in second-division leagues and advanced to Wednesday’s match with back-to-back upsets of MLS opponents.
Miami won the NASL Spring Season title, posting an 11-3-3 record and scoring 33 goals — nearly double the output of second-place San Francisco. Miami outscored its first four Cup opponents 11-5 and routed San Francisco 7-0 the week before the originally scheduled game against Cincinnati.
Cincinnati has not conceded a goal through five tournament games — a stretch of 151 minutes. It won its first three matches 1-0 and won the Round of 16 game against the Chicago Fire in a penalty kick shootout, with Hildebrandt making three huge saves.
When the final whistle blew on Wednesday, Poku fell face flat on the turf and stayed down for several minutes. Rhett Bernstein also stayed face down on the field. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati players celebrated and ran over to the northwest corner of the stadium, where about 100-150 Cincinnati fans were overjoyed.
“In a fairy tale, we make it to the Open Cup final, win, and I buy everyone in this room a bottle of champagne,” Lahoud said. “But the fairy tale’s not over. It’s still being written here. Something special is happening here in Miami. Now it’s gut-check time, and it’s about realizing our dreams in the league and rewarding the crowd.”