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 Union Omaha

Owls Weather Storm to Win in Cup Debut

May 2, 2024 - United Soccer League One (USL1)
Union Omaha News Release

PAPILLION, Neb. - Union Omaha started their USL Jägermeister Cup campaign with a tempestuous battle that ended up being their second shootout in three matches. It would be their second shootout win, too, with a second goalkeeper, Wallis Lapsley, providing the dramatics this time.

With three matches in seven days, Union Omaha gave players like Lapsley and Anderson Holt a chance in the starting lineup. One of those was Chicago Fire loanee Missael Rodriguez, whose quickfire brace shell-shocked the Hailstorm just before the halftime whistle.

The performances from those coming in were good enough for Head Coach Dominic Casciato to simply start rattling them off post-match. 'Obviously Missa getting two goals stands out," he said. "A big shout-out to Brandon Knapp making his first professional start, and then I thought Anderson Holt as a young center-back making his first professional start was simply outstanding. And obviously Wallis coming up big with three saves there in the shootout was great."

In contrast to their last match, the Owls looked more threatening on set-pieces, especially early on when Luca Mastrantonio grazed the crossbar. They had the run of it in the early goings, but the tide started to shift around 15 minutes in.

The waves broke a couple minutes later. Haruki Yamazaki, a member of the Hailstorm for two days, played a speculative ball up the left flank. Luca Mastrantonio stepped up to intercept, but his lay-off to Brandon Knapp on the half-volley was nipped by Ethan Hoard. Hoard was three moves ahead in that chess game, because he first-time sent Bruno Rendon in on goal with Mastrantonio out of position. While he's usually a right back and has spent time at center back even, Rendon looked entirely comfortable marauding down the left flank, taking one long touch to bear down on goal, a delicate one to steady himself against Lapsley, and a third to tuck it into the far corner.

Rendon would nearly have a second on a whipped cross from the other side, but Luca's pressure helped him slot it wide... even if it should have been 2-0.

That would come back to haunt the Hailstorm when Missael Rodriguez took over. Aaron Gomez was sent into space by Knapp, and he in turn spotted Ryen Jiba streaking down the left flank. The former El Paso star hit Jiba on the switch of play while NoCo converged on the right, allowing him space to steady himself and fire a first-time cross to Missael in front of Northern Colorado's lone defender in center. One volley later, it was knotted up.

But wait! There's more! Literally 82 seconds later, Johnny Fenwick failed to control a hoofball from the back right afterwards, his touch setting Lagos up to pounce. He played Missael in on goal right down main street as Hailstorm defenders one-by-one threw their arms up to appeal a tight offside call. Rodriguez's first attempt was swatted by Lalo Delgado... straight up into the air. The young loanee managed to head it home amidst the stampeding defenders from behind, making it a stunning turnaround just before the half.

Lapsley was ebullient in his praise afterwards. "I think every game presents challenges, but we responded really well in the first half. Missael Rodriguez was outstanding today, creating lots of chances and finishing two really, really good team goals."

It would become 2-2 not too long after the halftime break, though. Under pressure, Knapp tried to play a pass back to Mastrantonio, and instead played Ethan Hoard in on goal. His shot would hit Lapsley, carom back off him, and lazily loop into the goal. They would nearly get a third on a long throw-in from Hoard a minute later too, forcing Lapsley to dive for a point-blank save.

The game would open up from there, other than the first yellow card of the match when Lucky Opara, seemingly inspired by the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs, would dole out a body check to Ryen Jiba. Unfortunately, the skies would open up too. That would get to be too much by the 84th minute, sending everyone but the faithful Parliament to find a roof over their heads when lightning struck too close to Werner Park to continue.

"We had to weather the storm, literally, for a little bit. And it's never easy to deal with a weather delay," said Lapsley.

There were brief sparks for Union after the delay ceased, with the field tilted heavily towards the Hailstorm goal, but the lightning had well passed, and we were destined for penalty kicks.

From there, Lapsley took over. Not one, not two, but three saves in the shootout crushed Northern Colorado's dreams of a happy cup debut, sending the Omaha faithful home happy, if not exactly dry.

"We went into penalty kicks with some confidence," said Lapsley afterwards. Given the way it broke, that confidence showed. "My teammates and coaching staff were all telling me they were confident in me and believed in me, so I came in, did my best, and today it worked out for us."

"Good night, and good to get the win on penalties to get the extra point in the cup competition. We're glad to get off the mark in the cup," said Coach Dom. Not a bad start to the newest competition to grace our schedules, for sure.

We're in the midst of a trio of home matches right now, all for different competitions. After this past USL Jägermeister Cup debut, we'll pivot to the league with a showdown against South Georgia Tormenta FC on May 4th, featuring Star Wars Night and a Fireworks show. Of course, after that is the U.S. Open Cup, where Union Omaha will be hosting Sporting Kansas City at Caniglia Field on May 8th.

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