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June 16, 2016

U.S. Open Cup: Alberg free kick winner spares Union blushes

Soccer Union
061616_gaddis Paul Rudderow/Philly Soccer Page

Ray Gaddis captained the Union in Wednesday night's dramatic 3-2 win against the Harrisburg City Islanders.

Admit it – you knew this game would feature some sort of goofy late goal, or red card, or horrendous foul call, or maybe all of the above.

The Open Cup drama has come to be expected, like a soccer version of "Keeping up with the Kardashians."

On Wednesday night, the Union needed a stoppage-time free kick to dispatch former affiliate club Harrisburg at Talen Energy Stadium. Philadelphia enjoyed a 2-0 lead at the 79-minute mark before conceding twice in the final moments, and only then did a questionable call from referee Sorin Stoica give the home team a juicy restart opportunity from 20 yards out.

Roland Alberg booted the dead ball perfectly into the upper corner, completing his brace and securing a 3-2 win.

"Yesterday we practiced some free kicks," said the Dutch midfielder, who opened his scoring account for the Union. "The last one I took went off the post, but today it went in, so I'm happy. I think I took my chances today. It was hard for me since it was my first game in a long time. You train every day, then only get in the game for a couple of minutes. But today I got my chance, scored twice, and helped the team advance."

It was a somewhat spastic performance from the Union, who scored within three minutes when winger Walter Restrepo was able to pounce on a goalkeeping mistake instead the box. This looked like it might be a relatively easy win, but the Union were sloppy at times in possession, turning the ball over on multiple occasions and allowing Harrisburg to slowly crawl back into the game.

After failing to add a third goal, Islanders substitute Craig Foster was able to cut the lead in half when he dragged a slow-rolling shot through traffic and beyond a static John McCarthy.

“After a fairly business-like 75 to 80 minutes, we unraveled a little bit and lost some composure," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Credit to Harrisburg for pushing the game at the end there. I'm happy for some of our guys who really stepped up that deserved minutes, in particular, Roland Alberg had a strong game, and Walter Restrepo, too, not because they scored but because they did a lot of little things. They’ve been working really hard in training and they’ve earned this opportunity to start so I thought it was a good exercise for our whole front four."

With the scoreline sitting on 2-1, winger Jose Barril was sent off for bringing down Leo Fernandes on a Union counter. It seemed like Harrisburg's hopes for an equalizer had been extinguished with the red card.

Minutes later, though, midfielder Bobby Warshaw was able to carve out an opportunity for the 10-man Islanders, gathering a loose ball, pushing into the box and toe-poking past McCarthy at the far post.

It looked like the game was headed for extra time.

But deep into stoppage, center half Shane Johnson was whistled for a soft foul on Sebastien Le Toux, who appeared to go down without much contact just outside of the penalty area.

Alberg's freekick snuffed out Harrisburg's comeback before it ever really started.

"I mean, we've had this happen a few times this year," said Warshaw. "We're a pretty good team, right? We play, we press and try to do a lot of good things, which we usually do. Sometimes this stuff doesn't go our way. I think... (long pause) I think if you watch that foul, the way the game went, it's disappointing to have it end on that. The guys worked really hard and fought back, and we've shown a lot of character in those ways. So, it sucks and it feels really sh**ty, but I think there's some optimism moving forward."

If the call seemed questionable, it shouldn't surprise you. Stoica is the same referee who bungled the Union's 2-2 draw in Orlando, denying a second half penalty shout and swallowing his whistle when Andre Blake was clobbered by Cyle Larin on City's opener. Even in this game, he was erratic and inconsistent for much of the 90 minutes.

Postgame, Islanders coach Bill Becher credited both teams for their performances but was ultimately disappointed with the call.

"From my vantage point, it is a pretty tough call to make," Becher explained. "It wasn’t something you say, like our red card, 'that’s a 100 percent red card, no doubt'. The foul they called, I don’t think it was. I would have to get a better look at it to say for sure. But it’s a tough call to make on something that you’re not sure about, to put it at the top of the box in stoppage time like that. And what was more disappointing was that my players said that he walked them off 15 yards. They kept showing him where the 18 was and where the ball was but he backed them up 15 yards. So it gave them that opportunity to get the ball up and down (over the wall).

"Again, I wasn’t out there, so I can’t say that for sure, but that’s what the guys were telling me, and that was more frustrating for them than the call, was that he backed them up way too far."