Birmingham Legion FC's deepest run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in club history came to an end on Wednesday night despite a raucous crowd at Protective Stadium. | Photo courtesy Birmingham Legion FC
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Birmingham Legion FC battled from the opening minute to the end, but a second-half goal by Nico Stefanelli sent Inter Miami CF into the Semifinals of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night at Protective Stadium to end the hopes of the USL Championship side for another historic night in front of their home fans.
Legion FC carved out a chance within the opening 90 seconds as Gabriel Alves played Prosper Kasim in on the left for a cut-back cross to Enzo Martinez, whose shot from the top of the penalty area was saved by IMCF goalkeeper Drake Callender. The visitors then began to settle in, but in the 23rd minute Birmingham threatened again and had appeals for a penalty kick waved away when a shot by Kasim appeared to be blocked by the hand of Sergii Kryvstov inside the penalty area.
Martinez also threatened 10 minutes later with a well-struck shot from the top-right edge of the penalty area toward the left corner that was parried wide by Callender as the hosts built a good spell of pressure, but the game went to the halftime break scoreless.
As Birmingham threatened early in the first half, Miami did so to start the second as Corentin Jean got into the left side of the penalty area but had his shot parried away by onrushing Legion FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel. The visitors took the lead in the 56th minute, however, as Stefanelli bounced home a first-time finish off a cross by Jean from the right from eight yards out.
Miami had a pair of opportunities to add to its lead that were denied by VanOekel, first on a low shot by Josef Martinez toward the bottom-left corner he turned wide and then on a fiercely hit shot from Franco Negri from distance that Legion FC’s goalkeeper made a diving stop to keep out.
Legion FC went close through an unlikely source with 15 minutes to go as Alex Crognale stepped forward from his center back position and whistled a shot from 35 yards just wide of the left post, while four minutes later Tyler Pasher couldn’t quite steer a finish on target after an intricate buildup created a chance 14 yards out.
Pasher produced a far cleaner strike with six minutes to go to force Callender into a diving save on a long-range effort, and the United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper needed to produce a big save to spare the blushes of teammate as he sliced an attempted clearance of a free kick toward his own net. After a late chance saw Juan Agudelo control well but have the ball nicked behind for a corner before he could shoot, however, Birmingham was unable to find an equalizer as their best Open Cup run in club history came to an end.