CHESTER, Pa. -- After taking down the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls on their way to the US Open Cup quarterfinals against the Union, the surprise Harrisburg City Islanders entered PPL Park on Tuesday with high hopes to continue their magical run.
The Union attack made sure that magic ran out.
“[Coach John] Hackworth told us before the game not to take this team lightly,” said Union striker Antoine Hoppenot. “They’re USL but they want to win and have been focused on beating us since they won over New York. We wanted to show them why we’re an MLS team and that they weren’t going to get anything on us today. It was going to be our game.”
And that it was. Scoring three goals in the first half and two in the second, the Lionard Pajoy-led Union shrugged aside a comeback attempt and bombarded the Islanders to take the contest, 5-2, to face Sporting Kansas City on July 11 at PPL Park, in the semifinals.
The Union defeated Sporting KC last Saturday in MLS action, 4-0.
“We’re two games away from our first silverware,” said Union striker Jack McInerney, who had a goal, his third in three games. “Our goal is to win the Open Cup since we had such
a tough start to our season. We want to win games in our season, too, but two games from the title, you can’t get much better than that.”
Hackworth was thrilled to host the semifinals game.
“I think it’s huge and the players, they know it,” said the coach. “It’s a big deal for this club and this organization. Everybody in this organization has worked hard so that we have the semifinals here on July 11 and that’s a huge ask of our front office and ownership group to host this game. That’s how important it is for us. It gives us the advantage for sure, regardless of who our opponent is.”
Scoring in the first minute against KC on Saturday, the Union kept their early-goal habit rolling against the Islanders. The Union came out physical and tenacious and the result showed on the scoreboard.
In just the fourth minute, Pajoy shed a defender on the left side of the Islanders' box before pushing a line drive centering pass that took an awkward bounce and deflected off the arms of Stephen Basso.
Taking the handball penalty kick was Freddy Adu, who flicked a soft shot to the right side for the 1-0 Union lead in the sixth minute. It was Adu’s third goal of the 2012 Open Cup tournament.
Coming off a two-goal game against KC, McInerney continued his torrid play in the ninth minute by stealing a mis-played back header from the Islanders' Dustin Bixler and scoring the easy breakaway shot for the 2-0 advantage.
“It’s awesome for us,” said Hoppenot about taking the early lead. “Obviously, it’s great because we can set the tempo of the game and they have to start spreading their players and pushing forward. Jack and Pajoy do a great job of exploiting spaces. It’s fantastic and makes the game so much easier to play.
“We wanted to take control of the game and play at our own tempo.”
Pajoy continued the Union goal parade in the 29th minute by accepting a leaky cross pass from Gabe Farfan and depositing a shot from deep in the box to make it 3-0.
“I thought it would be offense by committee rather than one individual and I think you’re seeing that come true,” said Hackworth.
But the overwhelming lead wouldn’t last as the pesky Islanders made a second-half climb. In the 51st minute, Islanders midfielder Brian Ombiji took an in-box pass from Yann Ekra, beat Porfirio Lopez and placed an easy goal past Zac MacMath. Three minutes later, former Union player Morgan Langley accepted a pass at the top of the box, ran through the entire Union back line and easily scored, making it 3-2.
“You never like that as a coach, when you’re winning 3-0 and all of a sudden you’re on your heels,” said Hackworth. “You could see it at the end of the first half when we took the foot off the gas, stopped playing forward and stopped going to goal with urgency. That’s the wrong thing to do. They came out of the half super motivated and threw everything forward in the first eight minutes and got two back, deservedly so. We didn’t handle it very well.
However, the scare fueled the Union, who retaliated with force.
Entering the game for Adu in the 62nd minute, Hoppenot earned a penalty kick after being taken down in the box by Bixler -- the second such play in two games for the Union rookie.
With the charity shot, Pajoy easily scored in the 69th minute to regain his team’s two-goal lead.
Regaining momentum, Gabriel Gomez, off the bench, capped off the Union’s scoring and put the contest to rest with a lofty breakaway shot in the 81st minute.
“I think strong teams in general understand the position they put themselves in -- and I think you saw that maturity from us tonight,” said Hackworth. “You saw [captain] Brian Carroll get that group together and tell them what they had to do and that it wasn’t good enough. A lot of guys said this is not what we want to have happen, so lets do something about it.”