WASHINGTON, D.C. — What began as a lack-luster inaugural Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game at Audi Field, finished in exciting fashion as D.C. United advanced with a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union.
Wayne Rooney was the hero again for D.C. United, as he delivered the equalizing cross and scored the go-ahead goal in the final moments of the match. He lined up in front of United’s typical front three of Lucas Rodriguez, Luciano Acosta and Ulises Segura to start the game. Segura is a starter in the absence of U.S. midfielder Paul Arriola.
Despite playing most of its first-choice attacking starters, United looked rusty. They missed simple passes and gave up poor turnovers.
“[Philadelphia] just had a better mentality from the get-go. We got into the game and it became important to us, but it took a little bit,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We had a bunch of different ways to go about this game, but we wanted to keep some structure. We wanted to use this game as real rhythm going forward.”
The Union, who were without several players due to international duty and injury, capitalized on United’s mistakes and took 13 shots in the first half compared to United’s four shots.
The Union’s closes chance on the night, came from Fafa Picault. The forward dribbled easily around United’s defense, but goalkeeper Chris Seitz got a foot on the shot to force it out of bounds. Both teams appeared to be walking into halftime as the midweek Cup game lacked fire power.
“It could have gone their way, it could have gone our way,” Olsen said. “They are missing a few people. We are missing a few people.”
The second half started with a quick burst of energy from the front line. Rooney started a three-pass sequence with Acosta and Segura. Segura took a hard shot at Union goalkeeper Matt Freese, who hit the ball out of danger.
Defensively, the game was a chance for one of United’s key pieces to return. Joseph Mora got his first start since fracturing his jaw on March 31. For 95 minutes, he ran the length of the wing with homegrown player Antonio Bustamante covering on defense when he flew forward.
“We have missed him in a big way,” Olsen said. “The more we look at our team and analyze the first half, he is a big miss to what we are doing and how we attack [and] how we defend.”
On the other side, defender Chris Odoi-Astem was a late scratch before the game after picking up a knock in warm-ups. Defender Jalen Robinson took his place.
“[Odoi-Atsem] is very disappointed,” Olsen said. “But he has gone through worse. He is going to get through this quickly and bounce back and still play a big part of this [team].”
Jun 12, 2019; Washington, D.C., USA; D.C. United defender Joseph Mora (28) clearers the ball from Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos (17) in the first half of the fourth round of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Desperate for something on the attack, rookie Griffin Yow substituted on for Bustamante, giving United another option up top. With the added legs, United had a series of chances in the 77th minute; a breakaway wasted by Acosta, a potential penalty not called on Freese for tackling Segura, and a missed Rooney cross to the back post.
In extra time, United switched up the formation. While Leonardo Jara moved back into his natural right back position, Rodriguez and Rooney dropped into the defensive midfield. Yow, Acosta and Quincy Amarikwa, who subbed on for Robinson, became the three options in the attack.
United’s final subbed, the fourth allowed by the Open Cup extra time rule, was crucial. Defender Chris McCann came on for Mora in the 96th minute and opened up more opportunities on the wing.
“That stuff builds a group and that is important,” Olsen said. “I am happy for the reserves. I think they really did well.”
As the rain picked up in the second half of extra time, so did the desperation. Both teams took sloppy shots and it was the Union that found the scoresheet first.
In the 113th minute, 19-year-old substitute Anthony Fontana slotted a pass from Jamiro Monteiro past goalkeeper Chris Seitz.
United quickly woke up and put numbers in to Philadelphia’s penalty box. In a two minutes span, United scored twice and narrowly escaped a penalty kick shootout. Prior to the game against the Union, United went to penalty kicks in three of the previous five Open Cup games over three years.
“We would have rather won it than obviously go to penalty kicks,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “We have been on the wrong side of the penalty kicks a lot of years. It was nice to get a win tonight and finish it off.”
McCann jumped in the air to head in a corner kick delivered by Rooney to equalize. While ironically, United’s game winner was a penalty kick in the final ten minutes set up for D.C. after Acosta was fouled in the box. Rooney delivered from the spot to notch the victory.
United finds out its Round of 16 opponent, Thursday, June 13 in a draw conducted at 10 a.m. ET on U.S. Open Cup’s Twitter account and on ussoccer.com. No matter the opponent, you can expect to see United’s captain in action.
“It is a chance for us to win a trophy,” Rooney said. “I want to play whether it is a USL team or an MLS team. It is important that we keep a good feel about the place and we try to win the game and go even further in the competition.”