U.S. Open Cup has new darling and new young star

The 106th edition of U.S. Open Cup already has its darling: the Florida Soccer Soldiers.

Formed just 15 months ago, the North Miami Beach-based USPL team continued its improbable march when it followed up on its win over reigning NPSL champion Miami FC last week with a dramatic shootout win over the USL Championship's Charlotte Independence at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Tuesday's second round.

The Independence, one of the worst teams in the USL Championship with a 1-7-3 record, was hoping to avoid its same fate in 2018 when it lost to the amateur Ocean City Nor'easters in the second round.

Charlotte thought it had won the game at the end of regulation, but MLS veteran Dominic Oduro's goal in the eighth minute of stoppage time was nullified for offside.

The Independence was leading 2-1 and playing with a man up after Venezuelan Antonioni Gonzalez's red card when the Soldiers' Valentin Sabella equalized in the 119th minute after he stole Hassan Ndam's errant backpass in midfield, raced in alone on Curtis Anderson, rounded the Charlotte keeper who won the 2017 Under-17 World Cup with England and beat two retreating Charlotte defenders before slotting the ball into the empty net.

The 19-year-old Sabella, who graduated from MAST Academy in Key Biscayne last year and was a UPSL Best XI pick for the fall 2018 season, has been the star of the Soldiers' Open Cup run that began with a four-game sweep against Florida UPSL teams in Open Division qualifying.

In the shootout, Venezuelan keeper Bryant Martin converted the Soldiers' first attempt and stopped Enzo Martinez's shot in the fifth round to move the Soldiers into the third round against the winner of the game between North Carolina FC and the Richmond Kickers.

-- In San Antonio FC's 2-0 win over the Laredo Heat before before 4,702 fans at Toyota Field, 15-year-old Leo Torres came on in the second half to make his pro debut. The other subs were 18-year-old Carson Price and 17-year-old Jose Gallegos.

-- The Tampa Bay Rowdies gave 17-year-old Academy products Robbie Soronellas (North Florida) and Jack Casey (Dartmouth) their debuts with the first team in a 4-1 victory over The Village SC.

-- Hartford Athletic (0-9-1 in its first season in the USL Championship) got its first win when it scored two first-half goals and held on to beat the NPSL's New York Cosmos B, which had a 19-8 shot advantage and bulk of possession.

-- USL Championship teams won eight of nine games at home. Besides Charlotte, the only other second division team to fall was Tulsa. The Roughnecks dropped a 2-0 decision at the Austin Bold.
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