CARY, N.C. – There weren’t many remaining of the original 4,325 in attendance at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park when Memo Rodríguez scored the deciding goal to carry the Houston Dynamo to a 3-2 U.S. Open Cup fourth-round victory past North Carolina FC on Wednesday.
An hour-long lightning delay with no accompanying rain forced match officials to evacuate the stands, even as both sides continued to battle to break the 2-2 deadlock they tussled with into the 88th minute of play.
When both teams returned to the pitch, very few eventually witnessed the tough loss that NCFC endured after pushing the Major League Soccer (MLS) squad hard in a well-contested game.
The visitors were well rested coming into the match-up against the North American Soccer League (NASL) squad that was in between road contests.
Pace of play started high and it didn’t take long for FC to capitalize off a corner kick to take a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.
With the ball deflecting and rolling outside the Dynamo box, Steven Miller stepped into it and unleashed a rising left boot from 23 yards out that found daylight past diving goalkeeper Joe Willis and into the top right corner.
Houston looked to respond soon after, but with no result.
Andrew Wenger hit the left post with a right-footed shot from the right side of the box following a right-footed shot attempt from outside the box, high and wide to the left, from Vicente Sanchez.
Wenger, a former Duke Blue Devil, finally connected on a right-side feed through NCFC keeper Brian Sylvestre’s crease from Sanchez, and evened the score 1-1 in the 26th minute.
Both teams remained tied through the halftime break, and continued the second half by aggressively playing to take the lead.
Houston’s Dylan Remick hit the crossbar with a right footed shot from the center of the box following a Dynamo corner in the 50th minute.
Ty Shipalane then initiated a fast break across the center line with a long lead pass to Billy Schuler down the right wing.
The FC forward cut in on his defender and let a left-footed shot go that missed high over the goal to Willis’ right.
The score remained even through the 62nd minute until Remick took advantage of an FC turnover just outside the box.
The quick turnaround caught Sylvestre in a vulnerable position and allowed a well-placed low shot to beat him to his right.
Trailing 2-1, North Carolina evened the score six minutes later.
With a free kick set up just beyond the left-front edge of the Dynamo box, Laing looped his attempt across the front of the goal and beat a diving Willis to his left.
Heading into the 75th minute, a structured offensive set saw another Houston shot attempt from Charlie Ward hit the post to the left of a diving Sylvestre.
With play peaking to increase the crowd’s excitement to a crescendo with the end of regulation time nearing, the game was suspended at the 87:16 mark due to lightning in the surrounding area.
Following the original delay of 30 minutes, an additional lighting strike extended the restart to an hour.
Both teams returned to the pitch, and after a short warmup, restarted play at 10:50 pm with an NCFC free kick.
Fondy’s quick shot attempt from 12 yards missed the post to Willis’ left – an opportunity that if successful, would have likely ended the game in FC’s favor.
However, it didn’t, and both teams remained tied 2-2 at the end of regulation.
During the two 15-minute extra period halves of play, NCFC had the first good chance to score in the 94th minute, but a header from Fondy, nor an in-close right-footed rebound from Shipalane were able to find the back of the goal.
Instead, it was Rodríguez who scored the final goal of the game in the 109th minute as he struck a low runner five yards outside the box, through traffic and into the bottom left corner past Sylvestre.
The win advanced the Dynamo into the Open Cup round-of-16 while the loss ended North Carolina FC’s tournament run.
“We’re disappointed to lose the game,” North Carolina FC head coach Colin Clarke said.
“It was a lot of fun to watch and was pretty much end-to-end with a lot of chances. Maybe their bit of quality probably told in the end. We had enough chances to win the game and go ahead in extra time, but we weren’t clinical enough.”
NCFC: Brian Sylvestre; Paul Black, Christian Ibeagha, Brad Ruhaak, Steven Miller; Nazmi Albadawi ©, Austin da Luz (Bolu Akinyode, 88’), Lance Laing, Saeed Robinson (Matt Fondy, 46’), Tiyi Shipalane (Brian Shriver, 110’); Billy Schuler
Subs not used: Macklin Robinson, Dre Fortune, Kareem Moses, Jonathon Orlando
HOU: Joe Willis; Dylan Remick, Taylor Hunter, Kevin Garcia, Jalil Anibaba; Eric Bird, Joseph Holland (Jose Escalante, 81’), Charlie Ward, Jose Rodriguez (Jorginho James, 111); Vicente Sanchez ©(Ruben Luna 78’), Andrew Wenger
Subs not used: Calle Brown, Kai Greene, Camilo Monroy, Kyle Murphy
Goals: NCFC: Steven Miller (unassisted, 4’), Lance Laing (unassisted, 69’); HOU: Andrew Wenger (Vicente Sanchez, 25’), Dylan Remick (unassisted, 62’), Jose Rodriguez (unassisted, 109’)
Cautions: NCFC: Austin da Luz 43’; HOU: Eric Bird 66’, Andrew Wenger 87’, Ruben Luna 101’
Ejections: NCFC: –; HOU: —