Detroit City FC beats Bucks in U.S. Open Cup opener

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Rochester — Detroit City FC’s Brett Nason admits he isn’t much of a goal scorer.

But on Wednesday night, Nason trotted out in the sudden-death sixth round of penalty kicks and delivered, tallying the winner as DCFC edged the Michigan Bucks, 1-0, in a shootout in the first round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament at Oakland University.

It was the first Open Cup win for DCFC (National Premier Soccer League), which was making its third straight appearance in the prestigious tournament, now in its 103rd year.

“It’s definitely big,” Nason said of the win. “Like coach Ben (Pirmann) told us, this was the game he really wanted to win. He emphasized hard work and we all came out there and worked our butts off. That’s really it. It’s big. We all wanted to advance, so it’s real big.”

DCFC will travel to Louisville, Ky., to face Louisville City FC (United Soccer League) in the second round at 7 p.m. May 18 at Owsley B. Frazier Stadium.

“This is tremendous. Like I said in the buildup, I think we wanted this a lot. Last year we were naïve — myself, my staff, my players,” Pirmann said. “This year, we were focused and I think you saw that after the first minute. We played hard. I told our guys the result will take care of itself, you have to be the hardest team on the field and we played the hardest.

“The owners, they put all this time, energy, money and passion into it. These fans, they’re crazy. They’re the reason we won. They get the man of the match. For our community, for our city and for this club, this a huge step forward to get the monkey off our back.”

After DCFC took a 3-1 lead through the first three rounds of penalty kicks with goals from Seb Harris, Jeff Adkins and Tyler Moorman, the Bucks rallied to tie it. Andre Landell and Jordan Snell each scored while DCFC’s Matt Nance had his shot blocked by goalie Drew Shepherd and Danny Deakin’s attempt sailed over the crossbar to force sudden death.

DCFC goalie Evan Louro made a diving save to deny Bucks' Brad Dunwell, setting the stage for Nason.

“I had the top five (shooters) already picked,” Pirmann said. “We’d been training in penalties this week. Brett Nason said, ‘I got this’ and I said, ‘Hell yeah you do.’ ”

Nason backed his words, slotting a shot into the upper right corner to win the penalty shootout, 4-3, and send his teammates and DCFC fans streaming to midfield in a wild celebration.

“I’m not going to give away my secret but I kind of knew the spot I was going to kick it in and tried to trick the goalie with a little mind game,” Nason said. “But honestly, it just went in and it was lucky.

“I play defensive mid, so that PK was a big one in a while.”

The contest was a rematch of last year’s first meeting between the two semi-pro teams that the Bucks (Premier Development League) won handily, 3-0.

This time the match was a grind-it-out affair that featured scoring chances few and far between.

The Bucks applied pressure early and nearly scored off a free kick in the 5th minute. After a penalty gave them the ball roughly 25 yards out, Adam Najem sent a shot on which Louro barely got a fingertip and it rang off the left post.

Two minutes later, the Bucks’ Ben Fitzpatrick beat the offside trap to get behind the DCFC defense and streaked alone down the right side. But the threat was neutralized when his crossing pass was cleared out of the box.

“Those first 10 minutes felt like we were there for an hour,” Pirmann said. “We really struggled, think the field was a little sticky, a little slow.

“We had to get those first 10-15 minutes out of our way and I thought we had the best chances in the game. They had possession, we knew that was going to happen. … But we just had to move forward and do what we had to do to get the win.”

It wasn’t until the 37th minute that DCFC put a scare into the Bucks and recorded its first shots on goal. After a shanked kick by Shepherd was corralled by DCFC, Spiro Pliakos had a good look from inside the box that was batted down by Shepherd.

DCFC’s Tom Catalano gathered the rebound, but his shot was sent aside by the Bucks’ defense to cap a scoreless first half.

The Bucks opened the second half with the first prime scoring opportunity in the 52nd minute when defenseman Lalas Abubakar’s header off a corner kick misfired just wide of the left post.

DCFC started to penetrate the Bucks’ defense and string together scoring chances. It nearly struck first in the 70th minute when Harris’ pass leaked through the defense and found Catalano, but his one-timer sailed over the Bucks goal. Then in the 75th minute, Deakin sent a shot across the box that trickled wide of the post.

The Bucks had five corner kicks within a three-minute span, but were unable to capitalize as DCFC thwarted each attempt. The first came in the 87th minute and was sent out of bounds by  DCFC before the following corner kick was batted away by Louro (13 saves) and the next three were cleared by DCFC’s defense to keep it scoreless after 90 minutes.

In the first 15-minute extra time session, the Bucks came within inches of taking the lead in the 97th minute after Russell Cicerone found Najim open atop the box. Najim nearly slotted his hooking shot into the upper left corner, but Louro made a diving save to get just enough of the ball and deflect it over the crossbar, keeping DCFC’s bid for its first Open Cup victory alive.

“(Louro) knows what our team needed to get done today,” Pirmann said. “The chip that Najim had I thought the game was over, but he tipped it wide. He handled some crosses well, but Evan is a big-time goalie and he was key.”