San Antonio FC goalkeeper Brandon Gongora celebrates with his teammates after making the decisive save in a penalty shootout against El Paso Locomotive FC. | Photo courtesy Emily Sullivan / United Soccer League
TAMPA, Fla. – San Antonio FC advanced past in-state rival El Paso Locomotive FC in a penalty shootout in the most dramatic contest on the opening day of the 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs as goalkeeper Brandon Gongora made the decisive save in the sixth round to send his side through.
San Antonio had initially taken the lead in the 24th minute on a sharp counterattack that saw Izaiah Garza break down the right side before delivering a low cross that was tucked home by Eduardo Fernandez. El Paso answered four minutes later with a good move of its own, however, as Brandon Carillo set up Mario Rodriguez for a low finish from the top of the penalty area to the bottom-left corner.
After the second half and extra time failed to produce a winner, however, the miniature Copa Tejas rivalry went to the spot. The sides exchanged made penalties throughout the first five rounds before Adrian Valencia stepped up and scored for San Antonio to open the sixth round. Gongora then made an excellent diving stop to keep out Locomotive FC’s Alfonso Duarte to earn his side victory.
“We had a great opponent,” said San Antonio Head Coach Oscar Munoz. “El Paso played good soccer, we played good soccer, in the first half they dominated the game, in the second half we dominated the game. We went to overtime and the luck was with us.”
CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE 2, EAST ATLANTA DUTCH LIONS 0: Goals in either half by Braden Gritz and Parker Sarvis sent the Independence to victory against a Dutch Lions side that had to play more than a half down to 10 players.
Gritz opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a sharp low finish to the left corner. East Atlanta almost responded when Eli Caid hit the crossbar with a free kick a few minutes later, but on the half-hour mark the Dutch Lions were reduced to 10 when Harris Parks was sent off for his second yellow card. Charlotte wrapped up advancement in the 51st minute when Sarvis added a second before closing out the game
INDY ELEVEN 8, FC COPA ACADEMY 0: Diego Sanchez scored two goals and one assist as 2021 title winner Indy cruised to victory in its opening game as Edin Cvorovic added a pair of goals and Benjamin Zec a pair of assists.
Jai Dindiyal opened the scoring for the Boys in Blue in the seventh minute off a corner kick by Sanchez, and Sanchez – who recently signed professional terms with Indy – added another pair of goals before the halftime break. Less than a minute into the second half Jose David Davila added a fourth, while Logan Neidlinger and Braeden Strothkamp also found the net in the second half.
AC CONNECTICUT 2, UTAH RED WOLVES SC 1: AC Connecticut rallied from a first-half deficit as Max Weiss’ second-half goal earned the side victory against the Red Wolves.
Utah had taken the lead in the ninth minute through Josh Foster, but Connecticut responded as Andres Pelaez before the halftime break. Weiss then delivered the winner midway through the second half with a brilliant curling finish from just outside the penalty area to send ACC into the Quarterfinals.
MIAMI FC 4, CENTRAL VALLEY FUEGO FC 0: Miami FC saw four different players find the net as it pulled away for victory in the second half against Fuego FC.
The Florida side took the lead in the 11th minute when Mateo Hincapie put home a Panenka penalty kick, but it wasn’t until the second half that the side pulled away. Nico Sulbaran added the second in the 38th minute before Lucas Costa scored on a second penalty kick four minutes later. Brandon Pallares then wrapped up the result, scoring moments before the final whistle blew.
ORANGE COUNTY SC 5, IRONBOUND SC 0: United States U-17 international Bryce Jamison scored a first-half hat trick as Orange County cruised to victory against Ironbound SC, which had chances but was unable to find a way back into the game in the second half.
Jamison opened the scoring in the seventh minute as he capitalized on a turnover in the Ironbound half off an assist by Joey Buckley, and then completed his hat trick in the next 10 minutes as OCSC took control of the game. Tarek Hamideh added a fourth before the halftime break, and Adrian Diaz wrapped up the result late in the second half.
TAMPA BAY UNITED 2, AHFC ROYALS 0: Endri Mustali scored both goals as the defending title holders made a winning start to their defense against an AHFC Royals side that put in a strong defensive shift overall.
Tampa Bay took the lead in the 26th minute as 2022 Academy League Playoffs Golden Ball winner Nick Skubis and delivered a cross that Mustali headed home from the top of the six-yard area, and just before the hour mark Mustali added his second of the game to send United comfortably into the Quarterfinals.
NEW MEXICO UNITED 1, NORTH CAROLINA FC 0: Andres Andrade scored from the penalty spot to send New Mexico United into the Quarterfinals after a hard-fought contest against North Carolina FC.
Andrade converted from the spot in the 20th minute, ringing his shot off the inside of the left post, and from there United was able to see out the win.