Photo: Fimmano Photography

Photo: Fimmano Photography

Union start their quest for U.S. Open Cup with 3-1 win over Harrisburg City Islanders

The Philadelphia Union opened their campaign for the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 3-1 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester.

Union Starting XI: McCarthy; Wijnaldum, Elliott, Yaro, Rosenberry; Medunjanin, Jones; Sapong, Alberg, Epps; Simpson

Harrisburg Starting XI: Lewis; McLaws, Mohammed, Nishanian, Brent; Olabiyi, Dabo; Mendoza, Wilson, Ribiero; Thomas

The US Open Cup

The Lamar Hunt U.S .Open Cup is U.S. Soccer’s club tournament, open to all levels of the soccer pyramid, including amateurs. Since MLS was born, its clubs have usually dominated, but once in a while a second-tier team can get a whiff of it. The last time a non-MLS team won the U.S. Open Cup was in 1999, when the United Soccer League’s (USL) Rochester Rhinos earned it.

The Union were in the U.S .Open Cup finals in 2014 and 2015. The first was an absolutely thrilling match against Seattle in an electric PPL Park that went into extra time, with Clint Dempsey scoring the go-ahead goal in the 101st minute. An Obafemi Martins 13 minutes later made the final score 3-1. The 2015 edition gave us a 1-1 draw at home against Sporting KC, forcing a penalty shoot-out. A missed shot by the Union’s Andrew Wenger proved fatal when that was followed by successful effort by SKC’s Jordi Quintilla in the 8th round of the shoot-out.

Last year, the City Islanders also traveled to Talen Energy Stadium and came back from a 2-0 deficit, when a stoppage time Roland Alberg goal saved the match from going into extra time. The Union knocked out the New York Red Bulls in the next round, but lost in a penalty shoot-out in New England in the quarterfinal round.

Some MLS teams do not take the US Open Cup too seriously, including the Union back in the Peter Novak days. But it is a serious piece of hardware, and I think MLS clubs should regard it as such. Jim Curtin has shown that he does.

The Harrisburg City Islanders

The City Islanders are a member of the USL, and are a former affiliate of the Union, whose partnership with them stretched from 2010 to 2015. The path of many a Union player has passed through Harrisburg.

They’ve been struggling so far in 2017, only earning 10 points in 11 league matches, leaving them in 13th place out of 15 teams in the USL Eastern Conference. They are also riding an eight-game winless streak in league play, stretching back to April. They’ve done better in Open Cup play, most recently beating Reading United AC 3–0 on May 31.

Harrisburg has a couple players in their roster that have seen time with the Union: forwards Aaron Wheeler and Pedro Ribiero. Wheeler was the victim of a botched John Hackworth experiment which temporarily turned him into a centerback.

The Match

Curtin trotted a kind of “B” team, but not really. Marcus Epps hasn’t seen much MLS action, but he got his first start of the season. John McCarthy also got his first start of the season with Andre Blake out of town for Jamaican national team duty. Seeing Haris Medunjanin in the starting XI was a bit of a surprise, since he just returned from international duty, but it shows Curtin’s desire to win.

The Union opened the match dominating the run of play, resulting in their first goal in the 19th minute. Derrick Jones received a Jay Simpson pass just outside the 18-yard box and slotted it past a slow-moving Sean Lewis for the 1–0 lead. C.J. Sapong increased the lead in the 33rd minute with a clean shot from just inside the box.

After that, HCI stared to show some life, finally getting on the scoreboard when they caught the Union falling asleep on defense. A cross from Paul Wilson found a wide-open Jonny Mendoza in the center of the box who didn’t miss. Harrisburg looked more dangerous for the remainder of the half, which ended with the 2–1 score.

The Union got their act back together going into the second half, and they did not waste time getting an insurance goal. In the 48th minute, Epps took the ball into the box, and as he approached the goal, Lewis came out. Epps made a nice stutter step to freeze Lewis and shot the ball past him to make the score 3–1.

Marcus Epps 6-14-17

Marcus Epps gets the ball past HCI’s Sean Lewis.
Photo: Fimmano Photography

The Union had several chances in the second half and could have scored more if they were a little quicker pulling the trigger. Harrisburg’s best chance to get back in the game came in the 67th minute when a rebound shot off of a McCarthy save that  he couldn’t hold on to hit the crossbar.

All in all, a solid performance by the Union. And a fine showing by their two rookies, Jones and Epps. Giliano Wijnaldum also played well. Simpson did a good job getting into position to receive service, but he was a little slow once he got the ball sometimes, allowing defenders to close in on him.

The Union will now move on to the U.S. Open Cup’s Round of 16, which will take place on June 28. The opponent and venue will be determined by draw on June 15.