At this point, you don’t have to ask if anything crazy will happen when the Philadelphia Union play in the U.S. Open Cup. You just have to ask yourself what it will be and when it will happen.
On Tuesday night at PPL Park, the trend continued when the Union fought through a driving rainstorm, a 45-minute weather delay, playing down a man for most of the game after a terrible red card, and the absence of any strikers to rally for a come-from-behind 2-1 win over D.C. United on the backs of two unlikely goalscorers: teenager Eric Ayuk and defender Fabinho.
And even though it came against a D.C. team that was resting many of its regulars, the Philly players were still really happy about it.
But at this point, it shouldn’t have even come as much of a surprise. In the U.S. Open Cup, that’s just what they do.
While the franchise’s zero all-time playoff wins and organizational problems have been well documented (put up some coffee and enjoy CBS3’s Kevin Kinkead’s recent Twitter rant if you haven’t yet), this team, for whatever reason, has shown a lot of guts in the U.S. Open Cup, the historic tourney that’s separate from the MLS season.
Going back to 2012, the Union advanced to the tourney semifinals after winning one game that featured a lighting delay and second-half monsoon, another on an extra-time winner from Antoine Hoppenot and another in which they poured in a record five goals.
They were bounced from the next tourney early but still advanced in their first USOC game on the strength of a dramatic Brian Carroll stoppage-time winner.
The following year, of course, they found magic week after week as they survived two straight extra-time games against lower-division teams, a weather delay caused by a literal dust storm and a dramatic shootout to advance to the 2014 finals, where they lost a thrilling game in -- you guessed it -- extra time.
And so far this year, they advanced to the USOC quarters after another shootout triumph and weather delay.
So if you’re scoring at home, of the club’s 10 all-time U.S. Open Cup wins, nine of those either had a weather delay, extra time, a stoppage-time winner or a shootout. And that doesn’t even include the 10th (in which they scored five goals) or any of their extra-time losses.
“There always seems to be something,” Carroll told me in the locker room after Tuesday’s win.
Indeed. And it’s certainly been a lot of fun for the players, coaches and fans, all of whom have embraced this historic knockout tournament where the unexpected becomes ordinary.
Could the next step now be the team learning to fight through the same kind of adversity in league play? Now THAT would be really crazy.