US Open Cup: Philadelphia Union relieved, but frustrated after scare from Harrisburg City Islanders

CHESTER, Pa. – When Andrew Wenger scored the go-ahead goal in the second extra-time session of Tuesday’s US Open Cup game against the Harrisburg City Islanders, he didn’t do too much celebrating.

Instead, the Philadelphia Union striker put his hands in the air as if to say, “What took so long?”

It was that kind of the night for the Union, who took no great pleasure in needing an 89th-minute game-tying goal from Maurice Edu and 30 extra minutes to scrape by their depleted USL PRO affiliate, 3-1, and advance to the Round of 16 of a tournament they have vowed to take very seriously.

“There’s always a bit of frustration when you feel like you’re knocking on the door for a long time,” Wenger said. “But it’s reassuring that we got through it tonight.”

Wenger, who had not scored since his first game with the Union on April 12, added another goal in extra time to put the game away. But by then, the City Islanders were running on fumes, in large part because they were without the services of four Philadelphia loanees who the Union decided not to let play against them.

“A lot of times, these games wind up looking like this,” Curtin said. “It’s not the way you draw it up. You can warn the group as much as possible, but these games are always fights. I’d like to give credit to Harrisburg, who is very undermanned and put up a good fight. They had us on the ropes, to be honest, had us frustrated, and fortunately we were able to push it into extra time and wear them out in the end.”

While the City Islanders wore down toward the end of the game, the Union looked the more disjointed team early on, falling behind by a goal and failing to generate much offense.

Afterwards, Curtin said having just one training session after last week’s firing of John Hackworth could have played a part in what he called a “sloppy” and “sluggish” first half. But the players offered no excuses.

“Not much has changed, because it’s still the same guys in the locker room,” Wenger said. “We’ve worked with Coach Curtin before. It really just comes down to us performing on the field.”

Still, it was not especially easy for the players to see their well-liked manager fired last week while they were away on break. Sheanon Williams, who anchored a good defensive effort at center back along with Edu on Tuesday, called it a “whirlwind" and lamented the players' role in the coaching shakeup.

“Hack’s been here since the team started, and I’ve known Hack since my [U-17] residency days,” Williams said. “He’s a big part of why I’m here. Obviously as a team, we let him down. We take that responsibility and move forward. We weren’t good enough, and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do or are capable of doing. That’s what happens in pro sports.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.