The U.S. Open Cup is a competition designed for magic moments. Amateur teams battle for a chance to play the pros and the pro teams have had their share of wild and crazy contests as they fight for the cup and a berth into the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Philadelphia Union have had their share of magical Open Cup moments over the years, but they ended up on the wrong side of a magical comeback in 2019 as D.C. United scored twice in extra time to knock the Union out of the Open Cup early.
After much discussion about the Union’s starting lineup, they managed to deliver mostly what was expected with a few surprises. The defense was completely switched from Saturday’s match against New York Red Bulls. Fabinho and Aurelien Collin brought some veteran experience to the defense while Olivier Mbazio, Mark McKenzie and Matt Freese were the youngsters. Three of the four players signed on short-term loans from Bethlehem Steel ended up on the bench.
The offense moved out of the 4-4-2 diamond that has been Jim Curtin’s preferred formation in 2019 and went with something closer to the 4-2-3-1 of recent seasons. Ilsinho earned a start after his heroics in the last match while Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos and Haris Medunjanin used three of the five international spots.
D.C. United fielded a strong side, although only 16 players dressed. Their numbers were further reduced when right back Chris Odoi-Atsem was injured during warmups and had to be replaced by Jalen Robinson. That left DC with only four options for outfield subs.
Once things kicked off at Audi Field, it was all Union for the first 15 minutes or so. However, the team couldn’t find a way to create any dangerous finishes. Bedoya sent a ball way over the net in the 9th minute while Ilsinho tried his usual “toe poke from a tight angle” shot early on. Sadly, this one didn’t find its way into the back of the net.
DC eventually settled in and began to press the Union defense. The backline didn’t work together smoothly at times, and a deflection during a dangerous scramble inside the box nearly resulted in an own goal. Luckily it just bounced off the post. But even as DC kept the defense on their heels, they struggled to finish the same way the Union did.
The closest goal in the first half actually came off of a Union counter. Fafa Picault faked out Robinson and was one-on-one with Chris Seitz, but his low shot to the far post was pushed just wide.
The Union managed 13 total shots during the first half, but only three of them were on goal. None of those three felt particularly dangerous either. But neither side seemed too concerned about going into the locker room tied at 0-0. All signs pointed toward this being a second half match.
Except it wasn’t. The second half unfolded in much the same way as the first.
DC came back onto the pitch and hit the gas early. They blasted a shot at Freese within the first minute that he handled well. They had another chance off of a set piece in the 59th minute as Wayne Rooney curled in a free kick for Frederic Brillant. He was able to get a solid head to it, but the shot glanced off of the post.
The Union were able to secure a few good stretches of possession, but they didn’t do much with it. They would move the ball to just outside the 18 but the attack would break down from there. Several times they could only manage to pass the ball around before a turnover or a not very dangerous shot.
DC’s next good chance came off of a breakaway in the 76th minute. It was Freese who managed to cut off the attack with a bold challenge to push the ball off of the attacker’s foot. Commentators wondered if it could have been a penalty, but the ref didn’t even consider calling a foul.
With only 10 minutes left to play, DC was content to whip long crosses into the box to see if something would develop. But the Union defense was in “bend but don’t break” mode to keep the ball out of the net at the cost of a few corners conceded.
A late goal would have sealed the win for whoever could have managed it, but both teams looked gassed and there wasn’t much danger in the final minutes. Matt Real made an appearance for Fabinho in the 89th minute, but he wasn’t going to have much of an impact at that point. Extra time was inevitable.
DC was on the offensive during the first period of extra time and it felt like they were about to punch through for the opening goal. A Bedoya foul outside the box gave Rooney a dangerous free kick and a McKenzie handball on that kick resulted in an even more dangerous free kick.
But the Union defense continued to knock away any dangerous opportunities. Collin was particularly effective at clearing the ball and closing down on DC attackers to break up their rhythm. This was especially important as heavy rain began to fall during extra time.
Curtin eventually went back to the bench in extra time to help freshen up the Union attack. Ray Gaddis came on for Mbaizo followed by Zach Zandi for Picault. Anthony Fontanta eventually came on for Sergio Santos during the second period of extra time (an extra sub is allowed in extra time in Open Cup matches).
With some fresh legs on the pitch, the Union pressed for a winner. DC goalkeeper Chris Seitz had to punch away a dangerous ball in the 106th minute that nearly snuck into the net much like the second NYRB goal last week. DC took their chances too and a Quincy Amarikwa scissor kick nearly broke the deadlock in the 112th minute.
In the end it was Fontana who would finally break through to score the first goal. Monteiro got credit for the assist as he flicked the ball to a wide open Fontana who had perfectly timed his run past Leonardo Jara. Fontana corralled the ball and fired it past Seitz to finally score in the 113th minute.
The Union were spent after what felt like a certain game winner. Ilsinho looked like he had an open run a minute or two later, but he couldn’t catch up to the through pass as he was completely out of gas after nearly 120 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Union, there was still plenty of time left for D.C. United. After a few chances were turned away, DC found the equalizer off of a corner kick. Freese couldn’t quite reach the ball on his attempted punch and Chris McCann was there to bury the header in the 118th minute. With almost no time left, the game looked like it was heading for penalties again.
But that’s not how it would unfold for the Union. Just a minute later, Acosta was given too much space as he darted into the box. Both McKenzie and Bedoya went too hard to shut him down and both ended up making contact to foul inside the box. The ref didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and award a penalty at the death.
Rooney stepped up to take it. Freese guessed right, but he had no chance of getting to Rooney’s powerfully driven shot. DC United took the lead for the first time in the final minute of extra time.
Two minutes were added, but the Union couldn’t muster much of a push into DC territory in the final seconds. The home team was able to run out the clock and after 120 minutes, the Union had crashed out of the Open Cup after their first game for the first time (their losses in 2010 and 2011 were in qualification and not part of the tournament proper).