Midfielder Nicolás Stefanelli scored in the 56th minute and goalkeeper Drake Callender would produce numerous crucial saves to lead Inter Miami CF to a 1-0 victory over the Birmingham Legion, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
Wednesday’s victory marked the first time the team will advance to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in club history. You could say it was a day that will forever be immortalized in Miami sports history, coming off the heels of an announcement that Argentinian superstar, Lionel Messi, will be joining the club in July.
Javier Morales, Inter Miami CF’s new interim head coach would notch his first victory at the helm of the team after replacing the recently relieved Phil Neville last week.
The first half was a deadlock with no scoring and not much pace, but Inter Miami would come to life in the second half. Robert Taylor would bring the ball down the right flank, he passed it to Corentin Jean, who dribbled to the middle of the penalty area to set up the big moment. Josef Martinez would miss a flipping kick attempt off an assist, but it was Stefanelli who came up with the save to drive the ball into the net from eight yards out past Birmingham goalie Matt Van Oekel.
Drake Callender was arguably the most important player of the night for Inter Miami.
Enzo Martinez’s shot attempt from the top of the box would draw Callender to make a diving save, only 90 seconds into the game. Martinez would set up Prosper Kasim on a play that has been much criticized since, during the 24th minute of action.
Kasim would blast a shot toward Callender and Miami’s net that Sergii Kryvstov appeared to have touched with his right hand for Miami, deflecting it out of bounds. Referee Sergii Demianchuk would rule for a corner-kick while Birmingham players pleaded there should have been a penalty kick instead. Birmingham would not be too pleased that there was no Video Assistant Referee for Demianchuk to review the play for a second time, it ultimately stood.
Martinez would come right back at Callender again in the 33rd minute, but the goalkeeper stopped his shot attempt to send both clubs into the half scoreless.
Inter Miami started the second half with an aggressive offensive attack that was in search of the game’s first goal. They almost found the net at the 47th minute, but Van Oekel saved Jean’s attempt with his own face. Inter Miami would break open the game at the 56th minute; Jean sent the ball into the box from the right wing for Stefanelli, who finished with a right-footer to beat the goalkeeper and put Inter Miami up 1-0 on the scoreboard. The goal was Stefanelli’s second in his last two games of competition on the pitch.
Miami continued to control the pace throughout the remaining minutes in search of extending its lead, meanwhile Callender would collect a couple saves that proved to be the most critical in Wednesday’s victory.
He swatted Tyler Pasher’s 35-yard shot in the 84th minute, in addition to stopping a potential own-goal by teammate Christopher McVey two minutes into stoppage time.
They ultimately held on to their 1-0 lead and advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup for the first time in their three-year existence, now only two more games stand in their way from winning their first trophy in Club History.
“This win is very important, not just for us as a team, but for the whole organization. We made history today – it’s the first time that the team makes semifinals,” said interim head coach Javier Morales. “We’re very happy and proud of the players and everyone around the team because this is not just about one player or the coach, this is about everyone. Inter Miami made history today making it to the semifinals.”
Inter Miami is set to take on FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup Semifinals on August 23rd. The draw to determine the host and venue for the semifinals will take place on Thursday, June 8th at 1:00 P.M. EST, where it will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Golazo Network.
For the ongoing MLS regular season, Inter Miami will visit the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium this Saturday, June 10th at 7:30 P.M. EST.
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