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D.C. United surges late for a 3-0 win over Flower City in the U.S. Open Cup

Ted Ku-DiPietro gets past two Flower City players in the first half of Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match in Rochester, N.Y. (D.C. United)

Featuring clubs big and small, pro and amateur, often clashing off soccer’s beaten path, the U.S. Open Cup has been a lightly recognized sports treasure for more than 100 years.

In the tournament’s modern age, lower-division teams have taken aim at MLS clubs, driven by the dream of pulling an upset that promises to overshadow anything else they accomplish this year.

D.C. United and Flower City Union, a third-flight pro team in its first year, landed in just such a situation Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y. And for most of a cold, wet and windy night, the prospects of a coup remained alive.

United then flexed its muscles, taking advantage of a goalkeeping mistake to open the floodgates in the last 17 minutes for a 3-0 victory. Three days after a two-goal, one-ejection display in league play, Ola Kamara scored twice and assisted on Nigel Robertha’s goal as United advanced to the round of 32, set to be held May 10 and 11. The draw is Friday.

“These kind of games are never easy,” said Coach Hernán Losada, whose team has lost four straight in MLS. “You might believe it’s going to be an easy game, just because of the level of the opponent, but when you play against a good structure with 11 players in their own half, the most difficult thing is the first goal.”

Kamara’s header shattered the deadlock, and Flower City was all but done.

“It was about remaining calm and sticking to our game plan,” defender Tony Alfaro said. “We had our chances, so we knew it was a matter of time before we got the first goal. And once we got the first goal, I knew we were going to keep scoring.”

Modeled after the English FA Cup, the U.S. Open Cup has brought together teams from all levels in a knockout format since 1914. United is a three-time winner, and since its launch in 1996, MLS has claimed every title except one. (The Rochester Rhinos won in 1999.)

In its first season in the 10-team National Independent Soccer Association, Flower City has lost all three matches by a 10-1 margin and had advanced in the U.S. Open Cup with a 1-0 victory over a semipro side.

With the match falling between league dates, Losada left many of his regulars at home and started a mix from the first team and the second-division squad, Loudoun United. Kamara was the only player retained from the lineup that blew a late two-goal lead Saturday and lost to Austin, 3-2.

Kamara was joined in the attack by two other high-profile players: Edison Flores and Michael Estrada. Most other positions were filled by secondary players, such as defenders Hayden Sargis and Jacob Greene, rookie midfielder Ted Ku-DiPietro and winger Griffin Yow.

No match for United’s skill, Flower City sat back and remained compact. Ku-DiPietro was United’s best player but didn’t receive much help.

Estrada, a member of Ecuador’s World Cup-bound national team, squandered two opportunities from close range in the first half, and Maykell Ortega made a fine save on Yow. Just before intermission, D.C. goalkeeper Jon Kempin bailed out the beaten Alfaro by thwarting Jay Yun Lee’s angled bid — Flower City’s only shot of the half.

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United’s frustrations continued deep into the second half until Kamara’s first goal in the 73rd minute. After Kamara hit the post from 15 yards, Ortega misplayed Ku-DiPietro’s high cross and Kamara nodded it in.

Eight minutes later, Kamara crossed to Robertha, who forced Ortega to commit and calmly slotted it home from six yards. In the 86th, Ortega upended Kamara on a breakaway for a penalty kick, which Kamara converted.

Unlike the Columbus Crew — which lost at third-division Detroit City, 2-1, on Tuesday — D.C. had dodged an upset.

“The longer you play and you can’t break that first goal, it gets more and more difficult,” Losada said. “At the end, the job is done, and it took a little more energy than usual, but we are in the next stage.”