CHESTER, Pa. — The Union's quest for a third consecutive U.S. Open Cup championship run nearly got off to a disastrous start on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
But Roland Alberg was there to save the day, as he willed the Union past the Harrisburg City Islanders, 3-2, in stoppage time, advancing the Union to the Open Cup Round of 16.
“It started to creep in and we punched it right in the face,” Union manager Jim Curtin said about the near Open Cup upset. “I thanked [Alberg] in front of the group for the goal he scored because that’s a big goal.”
Leading 2-1 in stoppage time, and after dominating the contest, the unthinkable occurred for the Union.
Down a man as a result of a straight red card handed to Jose Barril in the 88th minute, the City Islanders barreled into the zone in a panic. The chaos sent the Union defense scattering, allowing Bobby Warshaw to fire off a shot that beat John McCarthy, tying the game at 2-2.
“It’s one of those broken plays where their guy jumped on it and was able to capitalize,” Union defender Ken Tribbett said. “He was able to have a good little dribble and find the far corner.”
Yet, instead of remaining stunned, the Union countered.
Moments after the goal, Sebastien Le Toux earned a foul call just a yard off the top of the City Islanders’ box. The visitors weren’t happy with the call.
“It looked like a pretty tough decision to give him the free kick right outside of the box,” City Islanders coach Bill Becher said.
Controversial or not, the Union capitalized.
Lining up for the free kick, Alberg effortlessly launched a chip shot that beat the wall and goalkeeper Nick Noble to his right for the win.
“I was trying to kick it in the corner from the goalkeeper but at the last minute my mindset was different, so I thought I would kick it over the wall,” Alberg said. “It goes in. The feeling is amazing. I’m happy with the win.”
The Round of 16 takes place on June 29. The opposition and venue will be drawn on Thursday.
“The name of the game is surviving and advancing in this tournament and we’ve done that,” Curtin said. “We’ve had a good mentality, we’re happy to close it out and not go 120 minutes.”
Though the match ended with drama, it didn’t start that way. Owning possession on the right side of the City Islanders’ box in the third minute, Vincent Nogueira lofted a routine ball into the crease that was bobbled by Noble and dropped. From there, it was smashed home by Walter Restrepo for the 1-0 Union lead.
The Union doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time, when Alberg made it 2-0 off a fast-break goal assisted by Fabian Herbers and Ilsinho.
“I guess it wouldn’t be the Open Cup if the crazy didn’t occur,” Union midfielder Brian Carroll said. “I thought our guys started the game really well. There was a very solid performance up until about 10 minutes to go.”
Wednesday marked the second time the Union dispatched the the City Islanders from the Open Cup in the last three years. The City Islanders defeated West Chester United and Chattanooga FC to reach Wednesday’s match. The victory was the Union’s ninth in their last three Open Cup tournaments. They are 9-3-0 over that span.
Despite the drama-filled conclusion, the Union dominated the match. And they did so without their top two scorers — forward C.J. Sapong, who is fighting off a right ankle sprain, and forward Chris Pontius, who was being rested. In their spot, Curtin tapped Herbers, Alberg and Restrepo up front, with Ilsinho pulling the strings at attacking midfield.
“It’s the resilience of the group,” Tribbett said. “Whatever what happens, we believe we can and are going to win. We were all disappointed when that second goal went in but at the same time, we said it’s OK, now we have to go find the winner.”