By JOEL HOOVER
With the U.S. Open Cup in its 100th edition this year, it is fitting that such a landmark coincides with the creation of the Philadelphia Union’s Bethlehem Steel-inspired third kit. Bethlehem, after all, won the cup a record-tying five times back in the 1910s and 20s.
After a wild finish Tuesday night at PPL Park, the Union—wearing that third kit—took their first step toward writing themselves in Open Cup lore alongside their predecessors.
Captain Brian Carroll’s header in the 92nd minute rescued a 2-1 win for Philadelphia over the PDL’s plucky Ocean City Nor’easters in Tuesday night’s Third Round match.
The goal came just minutes after Ocean City’s Emmanuel Kollie scrambled home an equalizer in the 89th minute to cancel out Jack McInerney’s 49th-minute tap-in.
“These games are tough,” Union manager John Hackworth acknowledged afterward. “You’re going to have battles…it’s the March Madness of U.S. soccer. I thought we showed a lot of character, especially at the end there.”
Given the way the first 85 minutes progressed, the finish that followed seemed highly unlikely.
A very strong Union side fielded in a 4-3-3 formation failed to create chances from sustained possession and pressure in Ocean City’s half of the field. Well-organized and marshaled by the center back partnership of Tapiwa Machingauta and Tyler Hillard, the Nor’easters kept the Union to a few tame efforts outside the penalty area in the first half.
“It’s not a system we’ve played this year, so it was just about trying something different and seeing what we could get out of it,” Jack McInerney explained. “We wanted to win obviously since most of the first team guys were out there, so the second half we just had to make the change.”
The change was an increased emphasis on attacking the Nor’easter right side. This led to Sebastien Le Toux’s low cross for McInerney, which allowed the striker to tap in his 10th goal of 2013 early in the second half.
It looked like the job was done for the Union, who continued to control the play and slowly create chances. But a long ball on an Ocean City free kick in the 90th minute evaded Zac MacMath and the entire Union defense, and Kollie was there to scramble the ball home.
“I kind of got lost and had my feet taken from under me,” MacMath remarked on the goal, which was just the Nor’easters’ fourth shot on goal in the match.
Philadelphia quickly responded after the goal, winning a corner in the second minute of stoppage time. Le Toux’s low drive to the near post found a streaking Carroll, who nodded it back across goal off the far post and just across the line.
“I’m happy for the group,” said Carroll, “We’re advancing and we value this tournament, so we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
Carroll’s goal ensures that Philadelphia’s Cup dreams survive into the 4th Round, where they will meet rivals D.C. United on June 12 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD. It is the third straight year the two teams have met in the U.S. Open Cup at that venue, with D.C. United winning on penalties in 2011 and the Union returning the favor in extra time last year.