CHESTER, Pa. -- For most of the 2016 season, Jim Curtin hasn’t been able to find a regular spot in the rotation for Roland Alberg.
But on Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Union head coach not only played the Dutch midfielder a full 90 minutes but then thanked him in front of the entire team after Alberg rescued Philly with a stoppage-time winner in Wednesday’s 3-2 U.S. Open Cup victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders.
It was the second goal of the night for Alberg, who had played just a combined 15 minutes in the last eight league games after a string of four straight starts earlier in the MLS season.
“It was hard for me to train every day and [only play] some minutes at the end,” Alberg admitted. “But today I got my chance and scored two goals. The feeling is amazing.”
Alberg’s teammates basked in that amazing feeling too, especially after seeing the City Islanders rally for two goals to tie the game and threaten to take it to extra time.
Over the last few years, the Union have consistently won Open Cup games that involved red cards, weather delays, extra time or PKs -- but that was not something anyone wanted to deal with this year.
“I’d like to think we’re past the craziness of some of the games that have been here,” Curtin said. “It started to creep in maybe, and we punched it right in the face.”
It was Alberg who delivered the knockout blow, perfectly placing a free kick over the wall and into the corner of the net with the game tied and the final whistle of regulation about to blow.
“He’s one of the better ones for sure on set pieces,” rookie Fabian Herbers said. “He hit it perfectly. You can’t hit it any better.”
Herbers also played a key role in the Union’s attack, starting up top in front of Alberg and wingers Ilsinho and Walter Restrepo. Those four players have been reserves throughout the season but, with the Union preparing for a league game Saturday vs. New York City FC (1 pm ET, MLS LIVE), they all got the start vs. Harrisburg.
And they all delivered in a big way with Restrepo scoring three minutes into his debut with the MLS side, Herbers assisting Alberg’s first goal and Ilsinho showcasing his dazzling dribbling moves throughout.
“They’ve been working really hard in training and they’ve earned this opportunity to start,” Curtin said. “So I thought it was a good exercise for our whole front four.”
“It’s been very tough for me because I want to play always,” added Restrepo, who came over from the New York Cosmos in the offseason. “But we have a very good team, we have very good players and we are at the top of the table. The coach always says I have to be patient -- and I just waited for my opportunity.”