Dante Vanzeir went from a scoring hero to a penalty-kick miss goat for the Red Bulls. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The soccer gods can be very, very cruel.

Take, for instance, what happened to Red Bulls forward Dante Vanzeir in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night.

Vanzeir, making his first start for the club after serving a six-game suspension for racist comments last month, was the Red Bulls’ 11th-hour hero, connecting for a dramatic equalizer two minutes into second-half stoppage time against FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16 encounter.

He then became the goat, having his penalty kick saved on the hosts’ first attempt by goalkeeper Alec Kann in the shootout at Red Bull Arena.

It turned out to be the Red Bulls’ only miss in the tie-breaker. FC Cincy recorded a 5-3 PK win after the teams played to a 1-1 tie after 120 minutes.

The Supporters’ Shield leaders converted all five of their attempts. Alvaro Barreal put away his clinching shot to the left side after Luciano Acosta, Junior Moreno, Dominique Badji and Yerson Mosquera scored their penalty kicks against goalkeeper Ryan Meara.

“I told them [the team] when you lose in penalties, it’s not a great feeling,” head coach Troy Lesesne said. “Obviously, we did so much to invest in that match to come away and progress to the next round. But not one single player or any staff member should hang their head after that performance. It’s a great performance against a very good team.

“Even though they’re missing players, they still have a lot of quality on the field. And again, I think you saw some incredible moments from us to get the second goal during the 120 minutes, obviously didn’t come. If we keep getting in those positions, I feel really good about the direction we’re going in.”

Although the Red Bulls dominated the opening half in possession, 59.2-40.8 percent advantage, it was FC Cincinnati that found the range first, off a counterattack in the 42nd minute. Marco Angulo passed the ball to Japanese forward Yuya Kubo, who fired a 16-yard shot into the lower left corner past the outstretched arms of Meara. It was Kubo’s sixth goal with Cincy and his first since a 6-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 11, 2022.

Two minutes into second-half stoppage time, the Red Bulls, who pushed up for most of the half, connected for the equalizer. Vanzeir, took advantage of a short clearance by the visitors. He volleyed home the ball on one bouncer from the top left of the penalty area for the equalizer, his second tally of the year, to force extratime.

FC Cincy, which leads the MLS Eastern Conference, made seven changes from its 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night. Among the missing was U.S. men’s national team forward Brandon Vasquez, who picked up a knock in training and missed the match due to precautionary measures.

Though they were eliminated from the competition, the Red Bulls remained unbeaten in Open Cup play (10-0-3) at Red Bull Arena since the stadium opened in 2010. Cup matches that are decided by penalties go down in the books as a draw for both sides.

Captain and center back Sean Nealis liked where the Red Bulls are headed.

“I can feel the confidence from guys going forward and the attacking third especially, they have more creativity I’ve seen from them,” he said. “We were dangerous in the first half dangerous in the second half and definitely in extratime as well. Going forward, well I get better while I keep learning and growing as a team.”

FC Cincy will host the winner of Wednesday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and the Crew, on either June 6-7.


Meara made his 17th Open Cup appearance, the most for a player in franchise history.

Matt Nocita made his first team debut after he was subbed on in stoppage time at the end of the second half.

Luquinhas made his return from injury after missing the past nine matches across all competitions.