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Sandwiched between a lopsided loss to the Montreal Impact and a road test against Toronto FC, the Union slow down their MLS schedule on Tuesday to challenge the Ocean City Nor’easters in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup at PPL Park.
And like last season, the Union aren’t treating the tournament as secondary.
“We’re excited that we get to play that game here,” Union assistant coach Rob Vartughian said. “What it means for us is three games in eight days with a tough turnaround on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. But that’s an important game for us and for this club. We're treating the entire competition as something we want to make a run at.”
Fighting through the early stages of the Open Cup is always tricky for MLS, as each club faces hungry minor league teams from the USL-PDL and USL-PRO. In 2012, the Union fought through the Rochester Rhinos before taking down DC United and the Harrisburg City Islanders only to eventually fall to Sporting Kansas City in the final four.
To get to this point, the Nor’easters have dispatched the New York Red Bulls U23s, 2-0, and upset the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 1-0. Led by amateurs like University of Pennsylvania wide man Duke Lacroix and Drexel midfielder Ken Tribbet, the Nor’easters aren’t expected to hold back their attack on Tuesday.
For the Union, the roster could get tricky. Following a tough match against the Impact and after trading Bakary Soumare and Gabe Farfan, the Union return home with their health and depth in question. Though Union coach John Hackworth likes to run out a starting team to begin friendlies and Open Cup matches, the fans could see players like Roger Torres, Don Anding, Leo Fernandes and Aaron Wheeler get a shot at playing time.
“How guys recover from Saturday’s game is something we’ll gauge,” Vartughian said. “I think what we’ve shown over these last 10 days is that we’re deep. We have players who have come in and contributed. We’re happy with that and it’s something we may have to tap into midweek. We’ll see how it goes.”
The seemingly venomless matchup will not be without some drama.
After winning a coin flip, the contest was originally set for Ocean City High School’s Carey Stadium, where the Nor’easters call home. But the dimensions of the field did not meet the requirements for the tournament, which granted the Union home-field advantage. According to the Nor’easters, the club made immediate changes to the field, which is now suitable for tournament play. But since the Union already began selling tickets to the event, Open Cup officials denied the appeal, forcing the Nor’easters to lose out on a massive pay day.
"U.S. Soccer thought the field was good enough to host the first two rounds of the Open Cup, but now that we're in the third round, suddenly it's not,” Nor'easters general manager Neil Holloway told The Press of Atlantic City. “We were told that every team in this tournament, whether you're an amateur team, a pro team or an MLS team, was going to be treated the same. Evidently, that's not the case."