The new-look U.S. Open Cup saw most of the American-based Major League Soccer clubs in action on Tuesday evening. At PPL Park, the Philadelphia Union rode two goals from Freddy Adu to outmatch the visiting USL-Pro side Rochester Rhinos, 3-0.
With manager Peter Nowak suspended for an infraction at last year’s Cup play-in versus D.C. United, coach John Hackworth took the helm for the Union, and set out what proved to be the most attacking formation observed in quite awhile. The system was a fluid 4-3-3, led up front by Lionard Pajoy. Adu and Josue Martinez swapped roles on either side of the stout Colombian. The backline was perhaps the bigger story. Carlos Valdes was also suspended for this match, so Hackworth deployed midfielder Amobi Okugo in a central defensive role alongside Sheanon Williams.
The Rhinos lined up as a 4-4-2, with a counterattacking mentality that conceded that their best chances would come on the break. Several of the Rochester XI have had first division experience, including their goalkeeper Kristian Nicht, who started several matches for Alemannia Aachen in their brief stint in the German Bundesliga.
The Union were the superior side tactically, controlling possession for large portions of the match. Michael Farfan was the dominant wide player on the right, which allowed Adu to drift central and be more of a straight attacker. To cover Farfan’s advanced wing position, Michael Lahoud would fill behind from a defensive midfield role, as Jack Traynor and Danny Earls looked to exploit the space left by Farfan’s runs. Most typically working on the left, Martinez played as a winger, and proved a key role in Adu’s first goal.
The Union opened the scoring early off a corner kick. Freddy Adu booted an outswinger, and the ball caromed off a Rochester defender towards Nicht. Martinez got a boot on the ball just before the German keeper could collect, and that made it 1-0.
Then in the 22nd minute, the match was held up for a passing thunderstorm. The rain soaked the pitch, but the players came back out after an hour. 7 minutes after the delay, Adu put the Union up by two. Martinez made a run to the byline down the left, and he put a scintillating touch on his lofted cross. It appeared Pajoy would be the one to meet it, but Adu’s run from the 18 yard line was perfectly timed to allow him to head home the chance. Nicht got a finger on the shot but couldn’t keep it out.
The Rhinos had their share of chances. In the 13th minute, a cross was played in from the left, and Scottish-born Thomas McManus met it at the far post. Unfortunately for Rochester, Chris Konopka’s positioning was perfect to save the powerful header. And in the 69th minute, an incisive counterattack saw substitute Michael Zaher receive a low cross one-on-one with Konopka just inside the area. He fired a low-shot, but it wasn’t on target and the Rhinos’ best opportunity went begging.
Philadelphia put the game out of reach from the spot in the 73rd minute. Michael Farfan, who moved to the left back position once his brother Gabriel came off with an injury, made a run at Quavas Kirk. Farfan eluded the right back, but once he entered the area Kirk brought him down and the referee awarded a penalty. Adu calmly left-footed the ball low to Nicht’s left. The Union was able to see out the clock, and their 3-0 victory allows them to advance to the 4th Round. They will travel to the Maryland Soccerplex in a rematch of last year’s play-in against D.C. United. The match will take place on June 5th at 7:30 PM.