The Harrisburg City Islanders, a USL-Pro side in the third division of the US pyramid, had previously shown that they could overcome a 3 goal deficit against an MLS squad. On Tuesday evening, a repeat of their 3rd Round heroics could not be duplicated, as Lionard Pajoy scored two goals to drive the Philadelphia Union past the City Islanders 5-2 and into the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The Union opened a three goal lead before halftime, thanks to some sloppy defending by Harrisburg. A cross from the left in the 6th minute was handled by a diving defender in the area, and a penalty was awarded. The spot kick was taken by Freddy Adu, and he put the ball past goalkeeper Nick Noble to open the scoring.
The second goal came off another lapse three minutes later. The ball bounded into Jack McInerney’s path, and the poacher put home the attempt for the 2-0 lead. Then right before the half hour mark, Gabriel Farfan crossed the ball into the area. Pajoy was able to control the pass, dribble between two defenders, and zip the ball past Noble.
After halftime, things got hairy for the MLS side in this match. Everyone knew about Harrisburg’s quick comeback against New England back in May. The City Islanders went down 3-0 through the first half of extra time. They proceeded to score three of their own before extra time concluded, plus won the ensuing penalty shootout.
They began their comeback in this match in the 51st minute. Left wing Yann Ekra gathered the ball just outside the Union area and passed to forward Brian Ombiji, who was marked by Porfirio Lopez. Ombiji turned the defender and beat Zac MacMath to get one goal back. Three minutes later, former Union wide midfielder Morgan Langley received a ball open on the right flank. He cut inside, created some space, and nailed a shot past MacMath to the far side of the goal.
With a lead cut back to a single goal, Hackworth wasn’t happy with what he saw on the pitch. “You never like that as a coach when you’re winning 3-0 and all of the sudden you’re on your heels. You could see it at the end of the first half.” But the coach stressed that the leadership within the squad helped the team regain control of the match. “I think strong teams, in general, will understand the position that they put themselves in. I think you saw a little bit of that maturity tonight.”
Bringing on Antoine Hoppenot in place of Freddy Adu, the French-born striker got free behind Dustin Bixler. Bixler was too strong in challenging Hoppenot in the area, and he drew the 2nd penalty of the match. With Adu out of the game, Pajoy took the penalty kick and faked out Noble to restore the two goal lead.
The final margin of victory was assured in the 81st minute. Gabriel Gomez, a second half substitute just returning from injury, found himself behind the defense with Hoppenot to his right. Instead of the pass, Gomez chipped deftly over Noble for the fifth goal of the night for the Union.
Though the team had lost control of the match through that 10 minute stretch to start the 2nd period, the Union showed a resiliency to regain the momentum lost, as coach John Hackworth talked about after the match. “You saw Brian Carroll get that group of guys together and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve gotta do, this isn’t good enough.’ It was a lot of guys saying, ‘This is what we don’t want to have happen. Let’s make sure we go out and do something about it.”
Philadelphia is now two victories away the seizing of the U.S. Open Cup. They will host Sporting Kansas City either on July 10th or 11th. The U.S. Open Cup is a prize that brings with it a long history as well as a cherished berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. “I think it’s huge. The players know it. We now have the opportunity to play a semifinal for this Cup here,” Hackworth said. “That gives us the advantage for sure no matter who our opponent is, and it’s important to us.”
Stay tuned later this week for more results from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.