Little brother was so close to having bragging rights.
For the second year in a row, the Union defeated developmental affiliate Harrisburg to advance in U.S. Open Cup play – this time in a match that went to extras and found the Union on the positive end of a 3-1 final score line fueled by a two-goal effort in overtime from Andrew Wenger.
With the win the Union (4-7-6 in all competitions) will host the NASL’s hottest team in the New York Cosmos next Tuesday at PPL Park (7 p.m., purchase tickets ).
While the club can celebrate a victory over its USL-PRO affiliate, it was a short-handed City Islanders side that kept the Union on its heels primarily through the outstanding play of goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, who finished with 10 saves on the night all of them more awe inspiring than the next. It was Harrisburg that struck first in the 38th minute after Jason Pelletier finished off a rebound in front of the Union goal.
“If you look at the first half the passing was sloppy, sluggish,” noted Union manager Jim Curtin. “We’ve had a long layoff and getting back and only having a day and a half or day of training to go against the Harrisburg team it was definitely difficult. I think if we were a little cleaner with the ball in three plays in the first half we could have scored the first goal, the key in these games is to score the first goal and make them actually have to come out and play us. To their credit, they sat behind the ball and they were hard to break down, and we didn’t have the quality to break them down. We were a little rusty, sloppy, but my guys fought hard in the end, they could have laid down but they didn’t, they kept pushing and got the goals.”
At the brink of regulation, it was midfielder turned central defender Maurice Edu who hit a right footed shot from the top of the box to level the match, 1-1 in the 89th minute. Wenger scored a pair in the 110th and 117th minutes, the latter a great run past a Harrisburg defender into the box to create space and drill his shot into the roof of Harrisburg’s net.
“Good for me to finally break a little bit of a drought,” Wenger said postgame. “It was even better for us to dig ourselves out of that and move forward, that’s the most important thing. Defensively, we played pretty well tonight and we were lucky to get a lucky chance in a sense, but we kept pressing and we figured it out. There’s always a little bit of frustration when you feel like you’re knocking on the door for a long time, but it’s reassuring how we came through tonight.”
The win marked three straight unbeaten matches in all competitions for the Union, but more importantly the first win for interim head coach Jim Curtin, who replaced former manager John Hackworth just last week. While it wasn’t the strongest effort we’ve seen from the Union, this was a club that came through in the clutch at the brink of elimination. Curtin did tinker with the lineup, putting out a definitive 4-2-3-1 formation with Edu playing in central defense alongside Sheanon Williams. Customary center back Amobi Okugo was given the night off. Additionally, Michael Lahoud paired with midfielder Brian Carroll in front of the back four. Sebastien Le Toux, who entered the match in the 57th minute for Danny Cruz, finished the game with a pair of assists.
Despite this being a break in action for many of the teams in Major League Soccer – due in part to a mandatory break for the FIFA World Cup – Curtin gets a chance to see his team in action in two more games including a split squad makeup that will face USL-PDL affiliate Reading United on Wednesday in Reading (7 p.m., purchase tickets). Then it’s a push to reach quarterfinal action against the Cosmos on June 24. Four days later, the Union will return to MLS action with a trip to Foxborough, Mass. to take on the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m., The Comcast Network).
“Not much has changed because it’s still the same guys in the locker room,” said Wenger. “We’ve worked with head coach [Jim Curtin] before and it really just comes down to us performing on the field. Not much is going to change in the way of who’s in here, so we just have to go out there and get it done.”
What were your thoughts on Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org