Union win on PKs to reach U.S. Open Cup final

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Union win on PKs to reach U.S. Open Cup final

The Union edged FC Dallas 4-3 on penalty kicks following 120 minutes of 1-1 action on Tuesday night to reach the final of the U.S. Open Cup.

The Union will now host the winner of Wednesday's battle between the Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire for the title.

All four Union players -- Sheanon Williams, Vincent Nogueira, Cristián Maidana and Maurice Edu -- scored on their penalty kick attempts. Meanwhile, goalie Zac MacMath was able to save attempts from Blas Perez and Victor Ulloa to secure the win.

Amobi Okugo gave the Union the lead in the 47th minute off assists from Vincent Nogueira and Sebastien Le Toux.

Fabian Castillo momentarily saved the day for FC Dallas with the tying goal in the 81st minute.

After both clubs went scoreless in extra time, the Union used that perfect performance in penalty kicks to cool off a red-hot FC Dallas and reach their first ever U.S. Open Cup final.

Chris Pontius, Ilsinho push Union over Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup Round of 16

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Chris Pontius, Ilsinho push Union over Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup Round of 16

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union’s U.S. Open Cup magic continues. 

Extending their quest for a third consecutive Open Cup title run, the determined Union came from behind to topple the New York Red Bulls, 2-1, in the Round of 16 on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

As victors, the Union advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals, where they will play visitors when they face either the New England Revolution or New York Cosmos on July 20. With the win, the Union’s Open Cup record extends to 10-2-0 over the last three tournaments.

Wednesday was a match of two completely different halves for the Union. 

The hosts were utterly dominated by the Red Bulls' high press in the first half, getting outshot, 13-1, and trailing, 1-0, when a free kick played into the box deflected off Chris Pontius and right to Mike Grella. The forward powered his shot to the right of Andre Blake for the 17th-minute lead.

But the Union came out of the half a different team. In the 55th minute, a perfectly played through ball from Ilsinho found streaking Pontius, who split the Red Bulls' defense, gathered the ball and fired off a right-footed shot past Meara to tie the match at 1-1.

With momentum leaning heavily in the Union’s favor, the pair connected again in the 60th minute. Off the rush, Tranquillo Barnetta slung a right wing pass to Ilsinho, who, while on the move and with the Red Bulls' defense closing, launched a cross that landed at the feet of Pontius, who one-timed it home for the 2-1 Union lead.

The match unraveled in stoppage time when Union assistant coach Mike Sorber was ejected for tossing a ball onto the field of play. Moments later, Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch was ejected for arguing a call. On his way out, Marsch picked up two game balls from the scorekeeper’s desk and chucked them at the Union bench, before storming off.

During taxing stretch, Union still adjusting to Vincent Nogueira departure

During taxing stretch, Union still adjusting to Vincent Nogueira departure

CHESTER, Pa. — Almost a year ago, the Philadelphia Union knocked the New York Red Bulls out of the U.S. Open Cup with such an inspired and gutsy effort that head coach Jim Curtin deemed it the biggest win in franchise history.

And a big reason they were able to pull out that shootout victory after going down a man in the first half at Red Bull Arena was the play of Vincent Nogueira, whose absolutely dazzling counterattack set up the team’s only goal.

For Union fans, that play was incredible to watch but probably not much of a surprise. One of the team’s best players over the last two years, Nogueira had a knack for rising to the occasion in the Open Cup, especially in the last two title games of the historic tournament.

But as the Union prepare for an Open Cup rematch vs. the Red Bulls tonight at 7 p.m. in a Round of 16 game at Talen Energy Stadium, they’ll have to do so without Nogueira, who left the team suddenly two weeks ago due to a personal health issue.

Two weeks may seem like a long time in pro sports but the Union have barely had time to catch their breath since, playing three games and giving up three goals in all of them as they’re still trying to figure out a way to cope defensively without their top box-to-box midfielder.

When asked how the players have handled the quick adjustment — on and off the field — Union head coach Jim Curtin harkened back to a meeting Nogueira held with the team before deciding to have the team terminate his contract and move back home to France.

“First and foremost, it was emotional,” Curtin said Tuesday. “Vince addressed the whole group and explained the situation to the team. What was said will stay in the locker room. It was a tough week for sure but, at the same time, the game doesn’t stop.”

The game doesn’t stop.

It’s a phrase Curtin uses a lot, usually when a player gets hurt or the team is coming off an especially tough loss.

Nogueira’s departure may be more unusual, especially with the midfielder recently signing with a second-division French club. But Curtin denied any “speculation out there that he was unhappy here,” stating unequivocally that “people in the room know that’s not true.” And as Curtin hopes Nogueira’s health will improve in his native country, he also hopes his team can adapt to the Frenchman’s departure, just as they’ve dealt with other moments of adversity throughout his tenure.

“We have a deep team,” Curtin said. “Vincent was a big part of what we did in terms of being a true No. 8 that kind of connected us from the back to the front. But I think Tranquillo has stepped in and done a great job in that position. It’s still a new position for him but one he’s done very well at. Vincent is no longer with us, so that’s kind of in the past.”

Making things even more difficult for the Union is the fact that captain Maurice Edu, who can certainly help fill the void left by Nogueira, is still recovering from a long-term stress fracture. And standout striker C.J. Sapong also remains questionable with an ankle injury, though he did look sharp during cutting drills Tuesday.

On top of all that, the Union are in the midst of a grueling stretch in which they’ve been playing two games every week for three straight weeks.

But Curtin pointed out that “every team goes through stretches when they’re missing guys,” and promised to do whatever he can to help the Union advance in the Open Cup.

“We’ll play our best available lineup, obviously keeping in mind where guys are physically after the taxing stretch that we’ve had,” Curtin said. “The moral of the tournament is to survive and advance.”

Some MLS teams, of course, like to sprinkle in some reserves for Open Cup games — which is something the Union did in their opening win over the Harrisburg City Islanders two weeks ago (which, as it turned out, was Nogueira’s final game for Philly). But they won’t do that tonight. And the Red Bulls, led by Curtin’s good friend Jesse Marsch, likely won’t either.

“It was instilled in us by Bob Bradley that you take the Open Cup very seriously,” Curtin said. “And I think both clubs do. Last year’s game was a crazy game .... a special day and a wild one for sure. [Tonight] will be the same. I know Jesse’s gonna play his best lineup.”

The Union’s best lineup includes Andre Blake, who Curtin confirmed will get the start in net even though John McCarthy started Philly’s Open Cup game two weeks ago and was sensational in the Open Cup win over the Red Bulls last year.

Recently, Blake was asked how he and his teammates have handled the Nogueira departure, and gave a thoughtful response about the Union moving forward without him, in both the Open Cup and MLS play.

“It did happen sudden,” the Union goalie said. “We were all surprised when we heard the story. It’s very sad and we do miss him. We are just trying to work hard — and maybe win this for him.”

Union's red-hot Roland Alberg named MLS Player of the Week

Union's red-hot Roland Alberg named MLS Player of the Week

CHESTER, Pa. — Roland Alberg has never in his life been on a tear like he’s on right now.

And he’s being rewarded for it.

On Tuesday, the Union midfielder was named MLS Player of the Week after scoring four goals in his last two games, including the second hat trick in franchise history in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire.

“It’s a good honor,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said following Tuesday’s practice. “I’m really happy with his contribution right now. And I think it’s the just start of something.”

Before his four-goal week, Alberg scored on a penalty kick in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss in New York City FC and logged a pair of goals in Philly’s 3-2 U.S. Open Cup victory on June 15.

That win set the Union up for a U.S. Open Cup showdown with the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, where Alberg will once again likely be asked to carry much of the offensive load with standout striker C.J. Sapong questionable with an ankle injury.

“You need multiple players that can score goals,” Curtin said. “And he’s a guy that can, whether it’s with his right foot, left foot. You’ve seen in very limited minutes, he’s already second on the team in shots on goal. He gets on the ball and his first look is to play forward and go to the goal.”

Curtin still hopes to see some defensive improvements from Alberg, whose playing time sharply increased following the sudden departure of Vincent Nogueira due to personal health reasons.

For now, though, the Union are thrilled with the offensive production of a player who now has five league goals in only 512 minutes. He’s second on the team in scoring to Chris Pontius, who was named MLS Player of the Week earlier this month.

Alberg’s honor marks the first time in club history two players have been named MLS Player of the Week in the same season.

Before this season, the only players to win the award were Jack McInerney (2013), Justin Mapp (2011) and Sebastien Le Toux (twice in 2010).