The party is in full swing again – but it almost never started. Kwadwo Poku has revealed that he was very nearly substituted before his dramatic injury-time winner against Atlanta United on Wednesday evening that thrust him back into the big time.
The Ghanaian forward further etched his name into US Open Cup folklore when he scored a breakaway goal in the 93rd minute to secure a 3-2 upset victory for NASL side Miami FC against their MLS rivals and seal a place in the quarter-finals.
It came just three years after similar Open Cup heroics for the Atlanta Silverbacks against Real Salt Lake, where he forged his reputation and ultimately secured a move to New York City FC.
On Wednesday, Poku extended Miami FC’s amazing cup run – that has followed victories over Tampa Ray Rowdies and Orlando City – when he latched on to Vincenzo Rennella’s through-ball and fired home the winner to set up a date with FC Cincinnati.
— NASL (@naslofficial) June 29, 2017
The 25-year-old discovered afterwards, however, that Miami FC head coach Alessandro Nesta seriously considered taking off the tiring striker with 10 minutes to go and the game appearing to be heading for extra time.
“It was amazing. At the end of the game, we had tired legs. We were thinking we had to play another 30 minutes – and a bad 30 minutes because we were so tired,” Poku told the Telegraph in a telephone interview.
“I was just focusing on finishing the play. We practise it in training all the time. I knew I was in and there was no way the defender was going to catch up so I was thinking, ‘I have to finish this play, I have to finish this play.’
“Afterwards we were just waiting for the final whistle. Everybody was tired but as soon as I scored, they were sprinting.
“Nesta said to me, ‘I was going to sub you – you were dead from the game. I don’t know what stopped me from taking you out of the game.’ ”
A good job he chose not to.
Miami FC now take on fellow second-tier side FC Cincinnati, of the USL, who defeated the high-flying Chicago Fire – in front of an incredible 32,287 fans and on national TV – in a penalty shoot-out.
Their last-eight tie means a non-MLS team is guaranteed a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2011.
Of the FC Cincinnati challenge, Poku says: “I’ve only seen the highlights of their games. But any team that has come this far has to be good.
“You can’t underestimate them – if they beat Chicago, they must be a good team. Now I will watch a few of their games to see how they play.
“We are playing at home – so we have to take advantage of that.
“We know it’s going to be tough but we will be ready for it. We are here to prove a point that we can beat any team in the States – that is what is pushing us.”
Poku had little chance to celebrate his Cup heroics. He was up at 5am on Thursday to catch a plane to Connecticut for Ghana’s friendly against the United States on Saturday.
“It has been a long day for me but that it the world we live in, part of the job,” Poku added. “It will be a good game. There is a rivalry from the World Cup. This won’t be a joke.”