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Ballard FC Bow Out of U.S. Open Cup in a Thriller

A crowd of nearly 2,500 watch Ballard FC and Spokane Velocity make their Open Cup debuts.

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Ballard FC and Spokane Velocity FC square off in the second half of their US Open Cup match.

SEATTLE – Ballard FC did everything right in their first-ever U.S. Open Cup match. Until the 97th minute.

Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to new USL 1 side Spokane Velocity was everything cup soccer is supposed to be. The crowd of 2,452 at Memorial Stadium was engaged and loud, the teams were up to the task, and final result aside, Seattle showed why it is quickly becoming a West Coast hub for high-level soccer. 

Spokane came into the night with two competitive games already under their belt, and in the early minutes seemed intent on pressing and knocking Ballard around with physical play. But Ballard – despite not yet being in their season – fielded numerous veterans from their National Championship squad and once the game settled in they showed they were very much up to the task. Ballard controlled much of the possession, defended well, and came close to breaking through on counterattacks several times.

The game was a wild, physical, back-and-forth affair with very few real chances. Peter Kingston nearly found the net for Ballard in the 17th minute, but his near post attempt was saved. Spokane’s Josh Dolling probably should have scored in the 39th minute on an open header, but he steered it wide of frame. 

Aside from those chances, neither team was goal-dangerous, but the game was wildly entertaining and physical. Three separate Ballard counterattacks were stopped with tactical fouls that riled the home crowd and fired up the players, and the second half was played at a blistering pace with hard tackles and confrontations on the ball. 

That pace eventually got the best of Ballard. As the clock neared 90 minutes, the game seemed destined for extra time, but there were signs that Spokane was inching closer to a result. From the 85th minute forward, dangerous crosses from Spokane’s right side zipped in front of Ballard’s goal to no result. 

Then on a 97th-minute long throw, Spokane’s Andre Lewis snuck in behind the Ballard defense on a corner and sent Spokane to the second round as time was surely expiring. It was knock-out cup soccer, and Ballard eventually broke down. 

The result was gutting for the players and coaches, but it’s hard to describe the night as anything but a massive success for Ballard FC and Northwest Soccer. Spokane is carving their identity into the professional soccer landscape and already building a culture early in their first season. They will move on to the second round and will play on either April 2 or April 3. 

Ballard showed they can play with the professional sides and the coaching staff has to feel like this outing sets them up very well for their coming regular season. Seattle soccer fans came out in full voice and turned what can be a cavernous stadium into a fantastic atmosphere, and previewed what is to come this summer, as Ballard plays their home matches at Memorial.

Memorial Stadium Under the Lights

It was also a ringing endorsement of the competition itself, and along with several other thrilling first-round results, this matchup showed why so many soccer fans and players love the US Open Cup. 

This year’s iteration of the tournament was thrown into chaos by Major League Soccer’s decision to withdraw most of their teams from the competition. The negotiations between US Soccer and MLS dragged on and left teams with a short runway to prepare for the first round of games. Teams like Ballard – whose season has not yet started – scrambled to get logistics put together both on and off the field.

Social media, soccer blogs, and pundit shows were lit up with arguments about the tournament and Major League Soccer’s place in it. The rhetoric got heated and “Save the Cup” narratives spread around the country. But once the games started it was plain to see why the Open Cup matters so much.

It brings high-level, high-stakes soccer to small venues. It matches teams that would otherwise never play a competitive minute against one another. And it shines a light on the sheer number of quality amateur and professional clubs in this country. As a fan said at the end of Wednesday’s match, “Cup soccer is just different.”