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McCarthy's Musings: Harrisburg springs its wildest Open Cup upset to date with stunning comeback against New England

McCarthy's Musings: Harrisburg springs its wildest Open Cup upset to date with stunning comeback against New England

Patrick McDermott

The City Islanders fought back from three goals down with nine minutes to play and won the game on penalty kicks in a stunning game on a wild night for the U.S. Open Cup.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Harrisburg coach Bill Becher stepped out of his side's joyous changing area and tried to put into words how his side managed to conjure up an Open Cup miracle.

One word seemed to crop up time and time again as he explained how his City Islanders scored three times in the final nine minutes of extra time to set the stage for a famous penalty kick victory over New England.

“It is difficult to describe that game,” Becher said. “It was crazy.”

That apt adjective probably falls well short of describing a third-round contest between a MLS side and a USL-PRO side that involved the following peculiarities: (1) a 30-minute weather delay prior to kickoff and lingering rain through much of the contest, (2) a soggy field that dealt with a pre-match deluge surprisingly well, (3) a 36th minute red card to Diego Fagundez, (4) a series of challenges that could have (and probably should have) left both teams shorthanded by a couple of players on another evening, (5) a trio of current Revs starters summoned from the bench to turn the game as the second half progressed and (6) a three-goal outburst by the Revs in the first period of extra time.

And to think those events merely served as the preamble for the complete insanity that followed in the second period of extra time.

Becher knew his players wouldn't quit after Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber staked the visitors to a comfortable lead by the extra time interval. Revolution assistant coach David Vaudreuil said he even mentioned the City Islanders' persistence to his players during the break.

But scoring three goals in 15 minutes against a MLS side after mustering a shot off the bar and a couple of near misses in the first 105 minutes? Well, that prospect seemed a bit far fetched even to a veteran City Islanders boss with several Open Cup victories on his résumé.

“When it's 3-0, I know we have a resilient group and we will fight, but to think we're going to score three goals in 15 minutes, that's out of our wildest dreams,” Becher said.

Suddenly, the fantasy didn't seem quite as remote after Brian Ombiji turned home Tom Mellor's cross with nine minutes to play. When Sainey Tourey polished off a rebound with three minutes remaining to draw the City Islanders within touching distance of parity, the tying goal – a long-distance drive by J.T. Noone – seemed inevitable.

“After 105 minutes with no goals, you can't imagine three,” Becher said. “But when the second one went in, on the bench, we were saying that, 'Hey, we might get another one.' And then we did. And then we went to penalty kicks. It was a crazy night. That's the best way to say it.”

The evening ended the way these nights tend to end when they take such a dramatic turn: City Islanders goalkeeper Nick Noble stopped Benny Feilhaber's decisive spot kick to seal a stunning resurrection (3-3 AET, 4-3 on penalty kicks) and send the remaining fans rushing onto the field to celebrate.

Similar scenes played out in different ways, shapes and forms across the country as seven lower-league sides emerged victorious against MLS foes on Tuesday night. There are plenty of reasons why MLS sides sometimes falter at this stage, but those excuses and explanations pale in importance to the sheer ability, ambition and will exhibited by NASL and USL clubs as they rise to the occasion and send their well-heeled brethren crashing out of the competition.

“That's the Open Cup,” Vaudreuil said as he processed the Revolution's defeat. “We've all been a part of it. I've been a part of it as a player and as a coach in the A-League or the USL playing the other way against MLS teams. Bottom line, it's a championship. You have to have everything working right. You have to have the character and the ability of a championship team to progress and go and win the Open Cup. We're not surprised [Harrisburg could do it].”

Since the City Islanders have already done it once to the Revs (2-1 after extra time at this stage in 2009) before in the Open Cup, the final outcome isn't a massive shock. The manner in which it arrived, however, provides a foundation for many a story to be told in central Pennsylvania for some time to come.

For Becher and his team, the celebrations will soon wind down and the focus will turn quickly to Friday's USL-PRO match against Richmond. Once the Kickers depart Harrisburg, the City Islanders will hope to somehow create that Open Cup magic once again when New York visits in less than a week

“We've had some wild Open Cup games – there's no doubt about it – over the years,” Becher said. “Hopefully, we've got another good one in us next Tuesday.”

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