On a night when his hometown team were coming up short in penalties in North Jersey, former Philadelphia Union homegrown Jimmy McLaughlin followed Bastian Schweinsteiger to the penalty spot to take one of the biggest kicks of his life.
“I was trying not to think too much,” McLaughlin said. “I had the spot made up in my mind, I quickly visualized it and took it.”
The 24-year-old buried it to the bottom left corner of the goal and when FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt turned away the next attempt from Juninho, 32,000 fans at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati lost their minds.
“The whole thing is pretty surreal for sure,” McLaughlin said. “We’re all still buzzing about the match.”
Thanks to a live broadcast on ESPN, McLaughlin’s phone has also been buzzing with messages from friends, family and former teammates back home who watched the national broadcast.
“It was an awesome stage to be able to showcase our team and our city,” McLaughlin said of the broadcast. “It made the whole thing even more special.”
McLaughlin has participated in the U.S. Open Cup before, both as a member of the Philadelphia Union and while on loan with Harrisburg City Islanders. Though he didn’t see the field, he was with the club for back-to-back losses at home in the finals in 2014 and 2015.
But all of those games were in front of crowds dwarfed by the masses that have turned out in Cincinnati: 30,160 witnessed a 1-0 win over Columbus Crew in a fourth round match and the final count last night was 32,287.
“I remember first coming to the stadium when I signed before last season and they were talking about getting 10 to 13,000 people, which seemed like a lot at the time for a USL team,” McLaughlin said. “Just to see how it’s taken off in this city is unbelievable.”
McLaughlin isn’t the only former Union player soaking up the experience.
Corben Bone and Austin Berry also played on Tuesday and FC Cincinnati’s quarterfinals opponent, Miami FC, features two former Union players in Michael Lahoud and Gabriel Farfan. Miami FC knocked off Atlanta United FC to ensure a non-MLS team in the semifinal for the first time since 2011.
For McLaughlin, a former FC Delco (now Continental FC) star who spent large chunks of his four seasons as a Union player on loan to Harrisburg after leaving Colgate early to become the Union’s second homegrown player in 2012, the national attention is an opportunity to prove he belongs back in MLS.
“It’s a showcase for all of us,” McLaughlin said. “We all want to be playing at the top level.”
A win over NASL club Miami FC on the road on July 12 would mean another match against an MLS team, either New England Revolution or New York Red Bulls, which advanced on PKs against the Union on Tuesday.
“I think I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to face the Union,” McLaughlin said of the Union being bounced from the competition. “I love Philadelphia and I love the Union. I had an incredible experience there and still have very close ties to guys on the team and in the organization.”