Aurora opened scoring in the 13th minute when attacking midfielder Arturo Garza curled a 25-yard free kick around the wall and inside the near post. Stegman’s was gifted an equalizer when forward Tim Wills pounced on an error by goalkeeper Eduardo Sandoval, and full back Aaron Olson gave the pseudo-Crows the lead five minutes later.
Borealis leveled the game shortly after halftime on the strength of a wonderful effort from winger Ryan Salazar. The score remained knotted at 2-2 for the final 40 minutes of regulation.
Reasserting itself in extra time, Stegman’s turned sustained pressure into a game-winning goal. Midfielder Martin Browne Jr. curled a corner into the 18-yard box and left back Nick Hutton guided the ball out of a crowd and into the back of the net.
Stegman’s ultimately prevailed in what was a tale of three halves on the strength of controlling two of them — the first and the third.
Granted, Garza’s free kick was of undeniable quality. Granted, the skies opening up in the 23rd minute conspired to lessen Sandoval’s grip on the ball, which served up Wills’ goal on a silver platter. But Stegman’s steadily grew into the game as the half progressed.
An important part of the latter was involving Martin Browne to a greater extent. Nominally playing alongside Ben Wexler in the front-two of a midfield triangle, Browne assumed the duties of a No. 10 and provided the poise and craft his team was searching for in the final third.
Most notably, it was a nice bit of combination play between the cultured playmaker and Olson that teed the full back up for Stegman’s second goal. Immediately following, the visitors kept most of the ball and dictated play until just before halftime.
“First half was all us,” said Minneapolis City chairman Dan Hoedeman, who served as Stegman’s head coach on the afternoon. “Their shot on goal was the free kick, and they got over the halfway line five times. Then, after half, they made some good adjustments.”
Before opposing head coach Brett Suhayda could get his charges into the locker room to make those adjustments, his left winger, Akim Suraji, nearly evened the score in the 45th minute, flashing a shot low across the face of goal that skipped just wide of the far post.
Adapting to the slick playing conditions, Aurora started the second half on its front foot, playing diagonal passes out to its wings. As the rain persisted, the risk that a tricky skid or bounce could put Borealis through on goal helped pin Stegman’s back.
Suraji, who’s first-half effort on goal was slightly off target, did not error when picking out his counterpart on the opposite wing. Salazar received the switch-of-field and played the ball forward with his chest before smashing a half-volley with top spin that left goalkeeper Matt Elder with no chance to intervene.
The 49th-minute goal had come moments after Elder could be heard from the stands, urging his teammates to raise their level of play. A minute later, Whitney Browne’s clever flick in the Aurora penalty area set up a shot from his brother, Martin, that caromed off the near post. But neither Elder or Hoedeman were able to will Stegman’s forward for another 15 minutes.
As the 70th minute approached, the game opened up as both teams chased a decisive goal. Speculative efforts and half-chances were traded.
Elder dove and parried a 28-yard effort from Garza in the 75th minute. A loose ball fell to Hutton inside the Aurora 18-yard box, but the full back was unable to take a clean shot on frame. Parra found space on the counter but center back Myles Norville was able to run the Borealis attacker down and stick a leg in front of Parra’s shot.
Stegman’s regained its footing in the contest as the rain eased up towards the end of the second half. And as the fall wind calmed, the visitors found their second.
Rolando Barclay was able to get in behind the Borealis back line in the 98th. Taking his run out wide, the second-half substitute squared a ball for Martin Browne inside the penalty area, but Browne’s shot was blocked by Edwin Muñoz.
Recreating Aurora’s last chance of the first half and against the run of play, Suraji was able to find space to shoot from just outside the 18, and again drove a low effort just wide of the far post.
In the 100th minute, Stegman’s forced a pair of saves from Sandoval, the first from a free kick and the second from the long rebound.
Stegman’s kept the pressure on with a series of successive corners. On the third, Martin Brown curled a left-footed cross toward the back post and into a crowd of bodies.
“I just tried getting to the back post,” Hutton said. “You’re fighting at the end. You’re scrambling. Someone’s got to make a play. The ball fell my way, I got a chance, and scored.”
Buoyed by the late score, and looking the better-conditioned of the two teams, Stegman’s saw out the last 15 minutes and secured the victory.
Aurora held its head high after a closely contested match, but the taste of being knocked out of the cup was bittersweet.
“We had an opportunity in the second half — a breakaway — we finish that and that’s the game, right there,” Suhayda said. “It’s a little disappointing, but I’m very happy with the way [my team] played, especially in the second half.
“It’s a step in the right direction compared to where we were at the end of this past [Premier League of America] season.”
“Conditioning was an issue for us,” reflected Borealis’ captain Parra. “We took it to them in the second half, got a goal back. There was a let-up at the end of the first period of extra time, but I’m proud of the way we battled.”
In the away locker room, spirits were understandably high.
“We did what we came to do,” noted Hoedeman. “We had a pretty specific game plan and executed it really well in the first half. They made some adjustments, we made some adjustments and won in the end.
“They had a lot of quality — their goalie made three outstanding saves. But we also hit the post twice. We could have scored more.
“Not sure what the next round will bring, but I’d love to play at home.”
“In a tournament, it’s just about getting a win every game,” said Martin Browne. “As long as the boys can fight together for a win, I think it’ll only get better as we have time to train.
“At times, today, we were able to get things going that we worked on in practice. At times we had to get a little more direct.
“You can’t take anything from the two goals they had. That free kick was sweet and that volley was unbelievable. I think they deserved their goals and we deserved the win.”
With that win, Stegman’s is through to the third qualifying round of the U.S. Open Cup, set to take place the weekend of Nov. 18. The club will have to wait to see if it will be drawn at home or away, and who its opponent will be.
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