Union kick off U.S. Open Cup with win over Harrisburg City Islanders

Union kick off U.S. Open Cup with win over Harrisburg City Islanders

CHESTER, Pa. — In seven years of U.S. Open Cup tournament participation, the Union have never lost to the Harrisburg City Islanders, going 3-0-0 over that span. 

That streak continued against the USL side on Wednesday.

With first-half goals from C.J. Sapong and Derrick Jones, and a two-assist effort from Jay Simpson, the Union easily dispatched Pedro Ribeiro and the City Islanders, 3-1, in the fourth round of the Open Cup at Talen Energy Stadium. 

"These games are tricky," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "I don't want to say nothing good can come of it, but we're expected to win. We're expected to be the team that takes care of business. The only time it really gets talked about is if we lose a game like this tonight. It's a tricky game."

With the victory, the Union, who received a bye up to this point in the tournament, advance to the Round of 16, which happens on June 28. The time, opponent and location will be determined on Thursday. 

"We'll have to look at the pairing now and see who we get paired up with," Curtin said. "But as a club, the Philadelphia Union want to take this competition very seriously."

Controlling play early, the Union opened scoring in the 18th minute on an effortless play. While holding the ball up at the top of the box, Simpson slid possession over to Jones, who placed a delicate, right-footed shot through traffic and between Sean Lewis and the right post for the 1-0 advantage.

"It was a great goal," Jones said. "I was moving up and Jay had the ball and he just laid it out for me and I finished."

Simpson, who started next to Sapong, Marcus Epps and Roland Alberg up front, found his second assist just 15 minutes later when he dished to Sapong on the right side of the box. The Union leading scorer buried the left-footed finish for a 2-0 lead.

"If I can contribute to help the team in any way, that's what I try to do," said Simpson, who is behind Sapong on the Union depth chart at forward. "You want to score, you want to create goals, and at the end of the day, we all want to win. So I was glad I was able to give a couple assists."

Despite the deficit, the City Islanders weren't ready to pack it in. The USL side cut the Union lead in half in the 37th minute, when Paul Wilson beat Jack Elliott at the right side of the Union box. The play caused Josh Yaro to cover for Elliott and Keegan Rosenberry to move inside for Yaro. Wilson then sliced a cross-box pass that evaded the Union defenders and landed to Jonathan Mendoza, who found the goal.

"They score the goal and that gives them a little bit of life," Curtin said. "And you can feel that momentum, but credit to the guys for starting the second half, that was the key, the first 15 minutes of the second half."

It was Union rookie Epps that would end the visitor's hope. Breaking down the right side, thanks to a long-range outlet pass from Haris Medunjanin, Epps beat his man and climbed in alone on Lewis.

"Haris played the ball in well," Epps said. "There was space in behind and I tried to cover it down and get to it as quick as I can and hit the open space." 

Epps slipped a nifty touch between the goaltender and closing defender for his first professional goal, sealing the 3-1 Union win.

"It was tough," he said. "The keeper did well, but I saw the little gap so a slow roller, I thought, would work best."

Roland Alberg, Union fend off Harrisburg City Islanders to advance in U.S. Open Cup

Roland Alberg, Union fend off Harrisburg City Islanders to advance in U.S. Open Cup

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.”