HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – The story on the night should have been about the legend of Kwadwo Poku and how the Ghanaian midfielder helped New York City FC advance to the fifth round of the US Open Cup.
Instead, NYCFC conceded twice in the second half and crashed out of the tournament 4-3 on penalty kicks to the New York Cosmos at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium Wednesday night.
“It’s disappointing for sure, probably most of all because you go through 120 minutes and penalties,” NYCFC coach Jason Kreis said. “You probably look back at it and say if we knew we were going to lose, I’d probably prefer to have done it in the first 90 minutes since we’ve got a very important game on Saturday.”
Leading up to the club’s first-ever match in the tournament, Kreis talked about the importance of the Open Cup and that was evident in a starting lineup that included eight regulars.
Designated Player David Villa, though, was held out for precautionary reasons, Kreis said, citing an artificial surface he called “very poor.”
Fresh off scoring a goal and setting up another in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact, Poku was in the starting XI and he appeared to be buoyed by that performance on the weekend with a two-goal performance against the Cosmos.
“I thought Poku was very good,” Kreis said. “Early on, the first 15-20 minutes there’s some mental errors happening, but really, really pleased with his effort and obviously he made two special plays for the goals.”
Poku blamed the turf for a bad first touch on his first goal when he received a pass from RJ Allen in the box. But he more than made up for it with a spectacular overhead kick to give NYCFC a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute.
“As everyone knows it’s not easy to play on turf like this, how the ball bounces, the controls,” Poku said. “I didn’t have a nice first touch, but I thought ok, they couldn’t clear it so I have an excellent opportunity to finish up.”
Poku immediately ran to the 1,000 NYCFC fans in attendance to celebrate.
“I don’t know what to say to the fans. They’ve been supporting us all the time,” Poku said. “We’re not here long, but they’re always there for us. Good or bad, they’re always cheering for us. I feel like everything we do on the field is mostly for them.”
Poku added a second in the 57th minute, hammering a low shot inside the far post off a pass from Pablo Alvarez.
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But then NYCFC didn’t do enough to possess the ball and the result was a Cosmos surge that ended with goals by Leo Fernandes and the equalizer by Lucky Mkosana in the 90th minute.
Even after conceding twice in the second half, NYCFC had a brilliant chance to take the lead in the 97th minute, but Alvarez blasted his penalty kick off the crossbar.
“It’s really tough. I know everyone’s hurt,” Poku said. “We should have finished this game off earlier.”
The game, which was dubbed the East River Derby, was played in front of a raucous near-capacity crowd of 11,446.
“It’s incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it before,” Kreis said. “For me to see how important this game is and the history this game has and the following it already has is a really bright sign for where we’re heading.”