Union's invigorating Cup run continues Tuesday
CHESTER, Pa. -- In a season marred with lows, the primary high point for the Union has been their success in the U.S. Open Cup tournament.
From their first-ever Open Cup win against the Rochester Rhinos to a thrilling victory over rival DC United to reach the quarterfinals, the 2012 run has invigorated a beaten team.
The Union will try to take the next step against their minor-league affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders on Tuesday at PPL Park -- a contest the Union are not overlooking.
“We’re taking it very serious,” said Union coach John Hackworth, whose club is coming off a strong 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City in MLS play (see story)
. “Harrisburg is a fantastic opponent that has already beat two MLS teams in this competition. We played them a couple weeks ago and know it’ll be a big challenge. We hope the fans understand how important is it and for those fans who weren’t there for our first Open Cup win in team history -- it was a pretty amazing night.”
Although the Union’s eye-opening run has been impressive, the City Islanders are the golden surprise of the Open Cup. The USL team defeated the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls to book a date with the Union.
“We’re going to play the way we’ve been playing,” said Union midfielder and defender Amobi Okugo. “They are a physical team that has done very well against MLS teams. We’ll be at home so we’ll look to that as an advantage and play as we have been playing the past couple weeks.”
Common friendly partners, the City Islanders defeated the Union, 3-2, on June 12 in Hershey -- a game in which the Union played mostly reserves. The City Islanders also field a pair of former Union players, Morgan Langley and J.T. Noone.
“We can’t dwell on this win too much,” said Okugo, following the KC win. “We have to recover and get ready for Tuesday to see Harrisburg. They know us well, we know them well. It’ll be a good game.”
The Open Cup success has helped the Union gain some momentum as a team. The continuation of that is important to the Union, who will keep the same lineup framework going into Tuesday’s game, despite traveling to play the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. However, there will be some changes.
“I’m not going to change much because it’s working,” said Hackworth after Saturday’s win. “I think Jack McInerney scoring two goals [versus KC] keeps Antoine [Hoppenot] coming off the bench. It’s fantastic that we have forwards who can score. We have a lot of games coming up on July and everyone will get a chance. We have an Open Cup quarterfinal coming up, so there will be chances for guys who didn’t get on the field tonight and some for guys who didn’t even get in the 18 tonight.”
Sitting on a 3-8-2 record, the Union will be hard-pressed to reach the MLS postseason, barring a miraculous second-half run. But Hackworth’s club does have a chance to find meaning in 2012 with an Open Cup title win.
“It gives us the opportunity to chase silverware and that has to be a goal of every club,” said Hackworth. “It’s the oldest Cup in the country and it gives you a chance to compete in the [CONCACAF] Champions League if you’re the winner. There are a lot of rewards that fall on a club because of that.”E-mail Ryan Bright at RyanBright13@gmail.com.