John Hackworth returned to Lynn Family Stadium on Wednesday night hoping to lead St Louis CITY2 to a U.S. Open Cup win against his former club Louisville City FC, but the MLS NEXT Pro side suffered elimination in a heartbreaking fashion.

USL Championship leaders Louisville City FC eliminated STL CITY2 9-8 in a 10-round penalty shootout, avoiding an embarrassing result on home soil. Despite heroic performances from STL CITY2 goalkeeper Michael Creek as well as centerbacks Josh Yaro and Kyle Heibert, the visitors suffered their first defeat in all competitions this season.

Danny Cruz’s side dictated possession for most of the 120 minutes, throwing chance after chance against STL CITY2. Creek was called into action twice in the first half, denying Tyler Gibson’s long-range shot before also frantically gathering Wilson Harris’ cross in the box before a rebound could fall to Paolo Del Piccolo.

Creek’s best moment came in the 59th minute as Brian Ownby’s right-footed shot in the box was pushed aside by the 23-year-old goalkeeper. Enoch Mushagalusa’s through-ball pass split the St Louis CITY2 backline, but Ownby was unable to find the back of the net as the backup goalkeeper stood firm. 

The pressure continued for Louisville City FC with Creek bailing out his defenders once again. Ownby’s dangerous cross from the right wing in the 69th minute was pushed wide by Creek with three Louisville players waiting on the doorstep. 

Creek continued to stand on his head, diving to his left to deny Jorge Gonzalez’s shot which looked destined for the bottom-right corner. The former Missouri State University keeper finished the match with four saves. 

Sergio Rivas had the best offensive chance for STL CITY2 in the 103rd minute, getting on the end of a flicked pass by 17-year-old Aaron Heard. Rivas tried to sneak a shot past veteran goalkeeper Kyle Morton from a tight angle, but Morton repelled the shot with a kick save. 

After a winner couldn’t be decided in extra time, the two clubs went to penalties where the shootout brought as much drama as the actual match. 

Morton’s first-round save looked to have put CITY2 into an early hole, but Hackworth’s men fought their way back. 

STL CITY2 would score in each of the next eight rounds of the shootout, with Gonzalez’s third-round miss giving the visitors a lifeline. Terrific finishes from Heard and 16-year-old Fritz Volmar continued to give STL CITY2 hope as the shootout went on, but Morton eventually called his own number to end the visitors' chances of advancing.

Morton denied Dida Armstrong’s effort down the middle of the goal, allowing Josh Wydner the opportunity to score the deciding spot-kick. 

STL CITY2 may feel disappointed with the early U.S. Open Cup exit, but overall after being out-possessed, out-passed, and out-shot, the MLS NEXT Pro side should be proud of their efforts against a consistent competitor such as Louisville City FC.

St Louis CITY2 returns to MLSNEXT Pro action on Sunday when it hosts MNUFC 2 in MLS NEXT Pro's Game of the Week.

The Story: Defensive stability continues for STL CITY2

St Louis CITY2 has been one of the top defensive units in the early stages of the MLS NEXT Pro season and that trend continued against the USL Championship leaders. 

Hiebert and Josh Yaro excelled in defense for the entire 120 minutes, constantly pressuring the Louisville City FC forwards. Both Yaro and Hiebert were all over the field for STL CITY2, making their presences known in the backline and dominating their individual battles.

Yaro, 28, won nine of his 13 duels, made seven clearances and had eight recoveries. The 2016 Philadelphia Union MLS Super Draft pick seems to have found a home under Hackworth, providing a veteran experience for several of STL CITY2’s young defenders. 

24-year-old Hiebert overcame an early yellow card to stay on the field for the entirety of the match. He won eight of his 14 duels, made two interceptions, and six recoveries, while also showing no fear in bringing possession upfield. 

Both players delivered key performances for STL CITY2 on Wednesday night, and although didn’t come out on the winning end of things, showed more of their individual qualities ahead of the busy MLS NEXT Pro campaign.