By Dominic Throngard
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – One Knoxville’s foray into the US Open Cup ended in heartbreak Tuesday night when the club fell to the USL Championship club Memphis 901 in extra time 2-1 in the team’s debut at Regal Soccer Stadium.
The first half of the match saw Memphis 901 proving their class as a USL Championship side as they maintained possession through most of it with five shots and two corners. The team struggled to execute in the final third at first but finally broke through in the 38th minute when they converted off a cross from Aaron Molloy that found Dylan Borczak’s head.
One Knox struggled in the first half with their three-man backline that was particularly susceptible to attacks from the wing, especially from Borczak who proved to be a real headache for the Knoxville club. The club however had flashes of brilliance in their counterattacks that saw two shots go just a hair over the crossbar. Attacking play found some success for One Knox where glimmers of beautiful ball movement made their way to the forefront as the team moved the ball through midfield. Memphis nonetheless was able to make the attacks fizzle out into nothingness with only 2 shots from One Knox in the first half.
The second half was all about One Knox as the team came out with a fire beneath them consistently finding gaps to press almost immediately as a series of smart through balls put the forwards in killer scoring position. The team eventually drew a penalty in the 55th minute thanks to some fancy footwork and Ilic was able to convert putting Knoxville level with Memphis at one apiece. Nonetheless, the hostilities between East and West were continually palpable with each side racking fouls and cards. Memphis had two good chances in the second half but was noticeably slower to start. Neither team was able to find a winner in regular time.
On the ball movement in the second half, the gaffer Mark McKeever commended his club.
“We talk a lot about the awareness, the understanding of the game, the understanding of your opponents, the understanding of your teammates and their strengths and weaknesses. And then we move that into choices, what choices are you making on the ball? Then from the choices it’s how quickly can we do the things that we’re trying to do and I felt as though we epitmized that awareness, those choices, and we started moving the ball really quickly.”
Extra time continued to be a slugfest between the two sides as the exhaustion set in and the teams began to move more and more slowly. The first half of extra time came and went, and the second half almost followed suit up until Memphis was awarded a corner kick during stoppage time. The ball seemed to float in a bit lifelessly, yet Memphis 901’s Jeremy Kelly was able to lodge the cross into the back of the net much to the dismay of the 1,821 in attendance.
“I’m just proud of the guys, they epitomized the five values today, and the last value is excitement, and I think crowd was excited,” said McKeever on the atmosphere surrounding Tuesday’s match.
One Knox is back in action again this Saturday against Chattanooga’s Red Wolves in Chattanooga on April 8th at 7:30 p.m. EST.