CHESTER, Pa. – The game was physical and chippy and littered with penalties and ejections.
But, in many ways, it was just what the Philadelphia Union needed.
On Tuesday at PPL Park, the Union survived a serious scare from the New York Cosmos – as well as a couple of near-brawls – to earn a hard-fought 2-1 extra-time win and advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup.
“It shows the character of the group,” Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. “Is the soccer perfect? No. I’m not going to sit up here and say we played a beautiful game or anything like that. But sometimes this competition isn’t about beautiful soccer. It’s not about stats or possession percentages and all of that other stuff. It’s about who wants it more and who wants to win a trophy.”
Curtin has said often since he was promoted to the interim role following the firing of John Hackworth two weeks ago that the team has planned to take the US Open Cup very seriously.
But after barely escaping the Harrsiburg City Islanders in their USOC opener in extra time last week, they once again needed to 30 extra minutes to put away a lower-division club – which came as no surprise to the Philly players.
“The Cosmos are not your regular NASL/USL team,” said Amobi Okugo, who was switched from the backline to the midfield on Tuesday. “They’ve put a lot of effort and time into their team and organization. They really wanted to make noise in this tournament and we did a good job holding firm and getting the win.”
Many of the Cosmos players and coaches felt robbed – particularly regarding the penalty call that led to Sebastien Le Toux’s game-winning goal in the second extra time session – with a few of them getting ejected in the waning minutes. Afterwards, former Union coach and current New York assistant Alecko Eskandarian tweeted that the Cosmos “deserved better if not for one donkey in the middle.”
But Curtin said he thought that there were “some good calls and some calls that were bad for both teams.”
“I thought we deserved a result and I think we deserved to win,” Curtin added.
And for many of the Union players, surviving a wild game like that showed the kind of character they’ll need heading into the rest of the US Open Cup and the second half of the MLS season, which begins for them Saturday in New England (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live).
“If you look at the teams that are successful in this league, they have the fight and they have the grittiness,” Okugo said. “The KCs, the Houstons when they’re on, Real Salt Lake, Seattle this year – those teams all fight for each other and fight as a team. And we’re just trying to bring that back.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.