Despite a strong second half from the hosts, Minnesota United FC entered Nippert Stadium and snared a penalty-kick shootout victory (3-1) on Wednesday to advance to the next round after a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes of open play.
FCC made an euphoric run to reach the tournament’s semifinals a year ago – dispatching two MLS teams along the way – and with a large, boisterous home crowd of more than 15,000 behind them, appeared ready to do it again. But Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth made several big saves to thwart the FCC effort, producing two big stops in regulation before making two more in the PK shootout to help MNUFC move on.
"I just try to read the shooter and stand up straight as long as possible," Shuttleworth said postgame, adding that it helped his confidence when Kenney Walker clanged FCC’s first spot kick off the post to begin the shootout. "It feels just like a save."
After a lackluster first half, Cincy came out strong after intermission, the-soon-to-be MLS expansion newbies controlling play on both ends but unable to steer one past Shuttleworth despite several strong chances.
"I am really proud of the way our guys played over the course of 90 minutes, 120 minutes," FCC coach Alan Koch said. "For a second-tier club to go the distance against an MLS club is great. You really couldn't tell who was the first-tier club. I am incredibly proud of our effort. A PK shootout is a lottery and to lose that way, there is no point in putting your head down."
Minnesota played solid defense all night, yielding possession in the second half but limiting the hosts to only a few really solid scoring opportunities among their 15 overall shots.
The Loons benefited from solid midfield efforts from Collen Warner and Maximiano, enabling the viisitors to dominate possession in the first half and bog down the FCC counterattack down the stretch. The duo haven't seen much MLS action for Minnesota this year, but coach Adrian Heath admitted that both were difference-makers on Wednesday.
"Yes, the play in the middle of the park was solid," Heath said. "I thought our three central midfielders gave a great account of themselves, especially considering they haven't played much football as a unit this year."