US Open Cup: Philadelphia's John McCarthy saves Union from elimination with shootout heroics

CHESTER, Pa. – After 120 minutes of frustrating soccer that had the Philadelphia Union on the brink of being eliminated from a tournament they were inches away from winning last year, they relied on a newcomer with only five games of regular-season experience under his belt to bail them out.

John McCarthy delivered in a big way.

Facing a Rochester Rhinos team that he starred on last year, McCarthy stopped three out of four shots in Tuesday's shootout to send the Union to the Round of 16 of the US Open Cup.

“I was just hoping to save a couple,” said McCarthy, who lost his place in the starting lineup in early May due to an injury and the emergence of on-loan ’keeper Brian Sylvestre. “That’s all I could really hope for. Penalty shootouts are kind of like 50-50. If you go the right way, hopefully you save it. If you don’t, most likely it’s going in.”

Helping McCarthy was his familiarity with the Rhinos, the team with which he won USL Rookie of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2014. After Jonny Mendoza converted the first attempt for Rochester, McCarthy made consecutive stops on Vassilios Apostolopoulos, Tony Walls and Christian Volesky in front of the Sons of Ben at the stadium's River End, telling reporters afterwards that he knew exactly which way Walls would go.

The Union's shooters, meanwhile, did enough to win, as Maurice Edu scored to open the shootout, Vincent Nogueira followed with a goal and Cristian Maidana helped seal the win after C.J. Sapong missed the net on the team’s third attempt.

“It’s always great to beat your former team,” Edu said when asked about McCarthy’s performance. “He came up big. Besides that, he had a couple of big saves in the game as well. But penalty kicks are always difficult. I wanted us to shoot first to put pressure on them for that reason exactly. We score our goals and he makes some big saves and – boom – victory.”

Midfielder Zach Pfeffer said the Union have “seen [McCarthy] do that stuff in training” many times, and head coach Jim Curtin noted that McCarthy's size helps him against penalty kicks.

But Curtin still called the save on Walls “special” and was pleased that the 22-year-old’s memorable night helped the Union survive in their quest to capture the club’s first trophy.

“That one was a different level,” the Union coach said. “I don’t like shootouts, but someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose. He stepped up and bailed us out on a night that we weren’t great.”

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

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