Union Omaha becomes first third-division team since 2013 to make Round of 8
ST PAUL, Minn. (May 25, 2022) – Two MLS sides up, and two MLS sides down.
Union Omaha just can’t seem to stop rewriting the history books in its first U.S. Open Cup run.
Now weeks removed from their win as the first USL League One club to defeat an MLS team, Omaha stood unaccompanied in the Round of 16. The Owls now carried the torch for all of League One, as their 2-0 victory over Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC in the previous round left them as the final third division team remaining in the competition. Omaha found itself amongst giants, with just 2 USL Championship squads and 13 MLS sides left to play. And despite the numerous milestones already earned, the Owls proved Wednesday night that they are not yet satisfied.
Omaha drew into a Bird Bowl in the round of 16 as they were slated to take on Minnesota United FC. It would be the Owls against the Loons in a short venture up the road for the team and supporters to make their way to Minnesota’s home at Allianz Field.
The Owls found themselves facing an early deficit with a goal from Minnesota’s Adrien Honou in the 6th minute, but they didn’t show any panic. It was a spot all too familiar for the visiting side, who had to equalize twice on the road against the Chicago Fire a couple rounds ago.
It would get its first chance to do so in this match off a dangerous counterattack led by Joe Brito. In the 9th minute, he placed a perfect ball to Kemal Malcolm, who sent off a powerful shot that Minnesota goalkeeper Eric Dick was able to fend off.
Omaha’s own keeper Rashid Nuhu made his first of many key saves on the night in the 20th minute, sliding in to stop a prime scoring opportunity from Bongokuhle Hlongwane. From there the Owls instituted a competitive press on Minnesota’s backline, one that almost produced a goal at the hands of Hugo Kametani after a heavy touch by the opposing keeper in the 31st minute.
The Loons almost struck again 38 minutes in, as Hlongwane slid in between two defenders with only Nuhu to beat. Omaha came out unscathed, the ever-reliable Daltyn Knutsen dropping back to apply pressure before Nuhu flew out to secure the save.
The Owls’ back line shined again in the 45th minute, as Emir Alihodžić made quite possibly the biggest defensive play in a match full of them. With Nuhu out of goal, the path was clear for Luis Amarilla to double the Loons’ advantage before Alihodžić came sweeping across for a goal line clearance.
It was in stoppage time when los Búhos made it clear they were not going down without a fight.
The chance seemed to almost come out of nowhere, with Nuhu sending a ball soaring towards midfield out of the box. JP Scearce used his head not for a goal this time, but an assist as he fed the ball to Kametani who raced in between two defenders and snuck a shot to the low post to bring the match even at 1-1.The goal would officially put the Loons on “cup-set” alert as the first half came to a close.
Omaha wasted no time flipping the tables in the second half with an early advantage in the 51st minute. Using his chest, Brito captured control of the ball off a defender’s deflection and sent a scorching shot straight into the top corner of the net. It was the first time Union Omaha had ever held a lead on an MLS side, and it was determined to keep it for the rest of the match.
Nuhu’s busy night continued with another save in the 63rd minute off the foot of Honou. In response, coach Jay Mims made his first substitution, bringing on veteran Dion Acoff for Malcolm. The sub marked a switch to a more defensive strategy as Omaha looked to remain in front.
“We knew we weren’t going to come here and dominate the ball and take over the game,” Mims said. “We knew we were going to have to defend for long periods of time.”
Nuhu and his defense clearly understood the message and rose to the occasion, although it didn’t come easily in the last 20 minutes of the match. They were tested again in the 71st minute, staving off another blast from the persistent Honou.
Minnesota’s D.J. Taylor almost brought the score back even in the 78th minute, striking a ball that bounced right off the crossbar. Many of the final minutes of the match were spent in Omaha’s defensive half, requiring all feet on deck to prevent a last minute comeback. After a last-ditch effort from Minnesota to equalize in the final minute of stoppage time, the referee blew the concluding whistle, sending Union Omaha to the Round of 8.
“To come from behind again … it really shows our guys’ fight and our determination and our grit,” Mims said.
With the victory, Union Omaha is now the first third-division club since 2013 to reach the quarterfinals of the Open Cup. The Owls will gear up for an I-29 derby as they make the trip three hours south to take on their next MLS opponent in Sporting KC on June 22. Until then, Omaha will look to bring some of its Open Cup magic to league play as they host Northern Colorado at 7 p.m. on May 28.
ABOUT UNION OMAHA
Union Omaha, the 2021 USL League One Champion, is the only professional soccer team in the state of Nebraska. USL League One is a United States Soccer Federation-sanctioned professional men’s soccer league that occupies the third tier of the American soccer landscape, below USL Championship (tier two) and Major League Soccer (tier one). Union Omaha plays its home matches at Werner Park in Sarpy County, also home to the Omaha Storm Chasers of Minor League Baseball. The team is led by General Manager Peter Marlette in the front office and by Head Coach Jay Mims on the field.