CHESTER, Pa. – It didn’t matter that the Philadelphia Union were playing against a D.C. United team that rested most of their regulars.
Nor did it matter that they slogged through a less-than-perfect performance on another rainy night at PPL Park. Or that the result did nothing to help them get back into the MLS Eastern Conference playoff picture after a brutal start to the season.
For Union head coach Jim Curtin, Tuesday’s 2-1 US Open Cup round-of-16 victory over D.C. United was still as special as they come.
“I thought our group took a big step tonight,” Curtin said. “In a lot of ways, it’s the most proud I’ve been since I’ve been a head coach – because games like this bring groups together.”
He certainly had plenty of reasons to be proud.
In a game that didn’t lack for improbable moments, the Union managed to battle back from a one-goal deficit despite playing down a man for 66 minutes.
And they did it on the backs of two players who mostly come off the bench – Cameroonian teenager Eric Ayuk and Brazilian defender Fabinho – while playing without any true strikers after C.J. Sapong was sent off with a controversial first-half red card.
“It’s definitely up there,” Williams said. “I’m proud of the team and the way we battled back. Obviously going down a man, down a goal, it was easy for guys to give up. But guys didn’t do that. We talked about at halftime just believing in ourselves, believing we’re going to get a couple of chances and just putting away those chances. To be honest, I thought we had the better chances and deserved to win the game.”
Williams was responsible for one of the chances, setting Ayuk up for the game-tying goal with a perfect cross early in the second half. That came 23 minutes before Fabinho, who came in as an attacker because the Union were missing so many attacking players with injury, rifled in the game-winning goal after Cristian Maidana set him up.
From there, the Union held onto their lead and successfully avoided going into extra time, which they needed in their first Open Cup win over the Rochester Rhinos earlier this month and four times during last year’s run to the USOC finals.
But just like last year's Open Cup games, Tuesday’s contest had plenty of craziness, thanks to a 45-minute rain delay and an early red card Curtin said was a “mistake.”
“It’s a huge win,” Carroll said. “First of all, it’s hard to get a comeback victory in this league. And to do it in a tournament like this, and in conditions like this, and already being low in numbers, was huge. It’s a testament to where we’ve gotten as opposed to where we started.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.