Union reaches Open Cup semis with win over Harrisburg
WAS THE black cloud really that black? The question must be asked, with the way the Union has gained a newfound sense of confidence, pride and purpose. On Tuesday night, a re-energized Union side picked up its second win under interim manager John Hackworth, cruising to a 5-2 win over Harrisburg in quarterfinal action of the U.S. Open Cup. The club gained its first berth into the semifinals and will host Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on July 11. SKC won, 3-0, Tuesday over USL Pro's Dayton Dutch Lions.
WAS THE black cloud really that black?
The question must be asked, with the way the Union has gained a newfound sense of confidence, pride and purpose. On Tuesday night, a re-energized Union side picked up its second win under interim manager John Hackworth, cruising to a 5-2 win over Harrisburg in quarterfinal action of the U.S. Open Cup. The club gained its first berth into the semifinals and will host Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on July 11. SKC won, 3-0, Tuesday over USL Pro's Dayton Dutch Lions.
"This whole team got on each other collectively and had a wake-up call," rookie defender Raymon Gaddis said. "Everybody is familiar with coach Hackworth being an assistant, and he's a great leader. Not to take anything away from coach [Peter] Nowak, because he was a great coach, but everyone has bought in to [Hackworth] over these 2 weeks, and we all know we have to get it done now if we plan to save our season."
The Union surged to a 3-0 lead by halftime, scoring as early in the fourth minute after midfielder Freddy Adu converted a penalty kick. Harrisburg center back Stephen Basso was charged with a handball in the box after a poor attempted clearance. Adu stepped up and pounded the ball past City Islanders goalkeeper Nick Noble. Five minutes later, the Union capitalized on another Harrisburg miscue after a 60-yard long ball from defender Amobi Okugo skidded off the head of a Harrisburg defender right into an onrushing Jack McInerney, who coolly slotted past Noble. The goal was McInerney's third in two matches, again raising the question as to why Nowak found him better suited for a club suite for much of the season.
"Freddy's first goal really set the tone for the night, and it was really important for me to finish that [second goal]," McInerney said. "Amobi put a great ball in and I just ran onto what I thought was going to be a clearance. It feels great to score. Like I've said, the coaches here all know me but as a player it's good to remind them that I do have those abilities, and I want to do anything I can to help the team."
Harrisburg came out rejuvenated in the second half, playing much as it had in beating the MLS clubs New England and New York earlier in the tournament. City Islanders midfielder Brian Ombiji scored from point-blank range in the 51st, and, in the 53rd, former Union midfielder Morgan Langley made a few quick cuts in the box to score Harrisburg's second of night. A decision to play a possession game backfired for the Union, forcing Hackworth's club to again turn on jets.
"When I found myself in on goal, I wanted to make sure it was going in," Langley said. "So I made the cutback and made myself some space and just saw the far corner was open. At that point, I think I went a little bit blank, you say, [with] my celebration, I didn't know what to do. I stopped and realized I just scored at PPL. I wanted to do it in a Union jersey while I was here, but to score here is something I'll remember. I just hope it's not the last time."
In the 68th minute, Union rookie Antoine Hoppenot came on, and drew a foul in the box after being tripped up. Forward Lionard Pajoy took the PK and earned a brace, having already scored the Union's third in the 29th minute. Hoppenot, dubbed " the litte spark plug" by Hackworth, has proved a menace in his minutes — another one who rarely played under Nowak.
It's perhaps unfair to assume that decisions under Nowak caused the slow start that few expected after the Union's run to the playoffs last season, but under Hackworth, fans, including the 4,313 in attendance Tuesday night, are seeing a much different club.
The Union resumes light training tomorrow before leaving Friday to visit Houston on Saturday, followed by a West Coast jaunt to Los Angeles to play David Beckham and the defending champion Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Independence Day.
"Houston is doing pretty well right now," Okugo said. "They haven't lost at home and they have threats like [forward] Will Bruin, who has nine goals this year. "It's going to be a tough game and a battle. We lost to them in the playoffs last year, and I know a couple of the guys here want to get them back."
Odds and endlines
The Union announced the signing of Malian center back Bakary Soumare on Tuesday. He was on hand Tuesday night, spoke to the media beforehand and hung out in the River End with supporters for much of the match against Harrisburg. Soumare, an MLS defender of the year runner-up, will compete for a spot against Okugo, who welcomed the challenge.
"It's good to have competition, everyone on the team can help and all 30 players are here trying to make a difference," he said. "I am here trying to keep my spot, so I welcome the challenge."