Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stopped Fafa Picault and Felipe did the rest, catapulting the New York Red Bulls over the Union in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, 1-1 (5-3), in added extra time penalty kicks on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.
“It’s devastating for the guys,” Union manager Jim Curtin said to reporters. “I couldn’t be prouder of the group in terms of the effort we put in. I thought we showed a lot more fight, a lot more heart, a lot of grit, balls, guts, whatever your adjective is, we had more of it.”
Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius kept pace with the Red Bulls early in penalties, but a heroic diving stop by Meara on Picault was the difference. Red Bulls veteran Sacha Kljestan gave his club the 4-2 lead but was matched by rookie Marcus Epps, opening the door for Felipe to finish the contest.
“I missed,” Picault said to reporters. “I shot it and he made a good save. It hit the post and that’s it.”
Despite guessing correctly on nearly all of the Red Bulls’ attempts, Union backup keeper John McCarthy was unable to make a stop. Meara finished with one.
After qualifying but losing in the tournament’s title game in 2014 and 2015, the Union failed to make it out of the quarterfinals last season. This year, the club, which defeated the Harrisburg City Islanders in its first match, wasn’t able to survive the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls advance to face the New England Revolution on July 13 at Harvard University’s Jordan Field. The Revolution defeated D.C. United, 2-1, on Wednesday.
Trailing by one and after nearly 90 minutes of futility, Alberg and the Union hit gold in the 86th. Launching a long-ball pass into the box, Jack Elliot stunned the Red Bulls’ back line as the volley landed at the feet of a nearly offside Alberg. The Union No. 10 turned and fired off a shot that beat Meara far side to lock the match at 1-1.
“Roland Alberg put in an incredible shift in terms of work rate and effort,” Curtin said. “Character to come back, this group has that.”
But that wasn’t the only scoring chance for the Union. Despite shaky defense early, the Union owned the game’s first great opportunity, when Picault, whose finish was suspect all game, broke free on a breakaway in the 18th minute. His low shot was sloppy and body-stopped by Meara to keep the game scoreless.
“We had them on the ropes in their building and we didn’t quite finish them off,” Curtin said.
It was one of 27 attempts on goal throughout the contest for the Union.
“We created enough to win,” Curtin said. “We should have won tonight.”
While the Union missed chances, the hosts took control. In the 41st minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips pounced on a Josh Yaro turnover and slid a centering pass to Kljestan, who easily placed his shot through McCarthy and in for the 1-0 advantage at the half.
“We have to regroup and refresh,” said Curtin, whose club is set to face the New England Revolution on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. “This is why our sports science department gets the big bucks. We’ll be ready to go.”