After throwing away a 2-0 lead and going all the way to penalties, the San Jose Earthquakes were always going to need something special to win their US Open Cup tie with the Seattle Sounders.
Goals from Jack Skahan and Cade Cowell put the Quakes into a commanding position just after half-time but in the space of 23 second-half minutes, their lead evaporated as Jimmy Medranda and Fredy Montero hit back for Seattle.
The Sounders piled pressure on San Jose and attempted 26 shots on the night but were thwarted by stand-in goalkeeper Matt Bersano. Little did anyone in attendance know that it would be Bersano delivering the final say in the cup tie.
With a penalty shootout level at 9-9, the 29-year-old saved an effort from his opposite number, Stefan Cleveland, before firing his own spot-kick home to take the Quakes through to the last-16.
Bersano has been an Earthquake since 2017 after joining from the Tacoma Defiance – previously known as Seattle Sounders 2. Having been restricted to loans with Reno 1868 FC, the goalkeeper made his first senior appearance for the Quakes on Wednesday and delivered some remarkable heroics.
“I’ve been shooting the ball my whole life,” Bersano said after the win.
“I’ve been shooting it as much as I’ve been playing in goal. Making the save I think was more difficult, especially with the way he hit it and the fact that it hit my hands and hit part of my face too. But when you’re lining up to shoot that, I’ve done that kick a thousand times. I’ve gone both ways. I’ve hit it wherever it needed to be to score.
“So at that point, especially playing in Seattle after starting my career in Seattle in 2016, it was a crazy moment, a surreal moment to be able to go up and strike that in and then be able to celebrate with the guys because that’s a moment I’ll remember forever.”
Quakes interim boss Alex Covelo is the first head coach to show faith in Bersano so far and was thrilled to see that repaid with a match-winning performance on Wednesday that takes San Jose one step closer to their first trophy since 2012.
“I have talked with Matt since we came in,” Covelo said. “Matt Bersano has a lot of history inside the club. He’s an important player. I think today he had a solid performance. He deserves it. He deserves to play. And we saw the result. He played great. He saved the team in the moments that he had to, and I think also he was very confident with the ball at his feet. I’m so happy for Matt.”
The Quakes now head into the round-of-16 draw in a group alongside California rivals LAFC, LA Galaxy, and Sacramento Republic.