Chattanooga FC hosted the Harrisburg City Islanders with a chance at becoming the first NPSL team to earn a game against an MLS team. However, the City Islanders, who are known for being giant-killers in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, played spoiler as they rallied to beat Chattanooga FC 2-1 to deny the amateur side a chance to add a third pro team upset to its resume.
With the win, the City Islanders earn a date with the Philadelphia Union, Harrisburg’s MLS affiliate, in Round 4. Since the two clubs are just affiliated, and don’t share an owner, they are allowed to compete in the tournament against each other. This will be the third meeting between the Eastern Pennsylvania clubs.
Chattanooga and Harrisburg played a mostly even first 40 minutes, with Chattanooga controlling much of the possession but the teams garnering equal chances. Chattanooga’s Juan Hernandez proved dangerous from the get-go, springing Michael Brooks on a through ball through the Islanders defense in the 15th minute. Two minutes later, Hernandez shot it himself, clipping the crossbar.
Chattanooga’s goalkeeper Tom Halsall, who had kept Reading off the board in the last round while delivering two critical penalty saves, made what may have been the save of the tournament in the 40th minute off a header from a free kick.
The sides were gearing to go into the half level until Harrisburg’s Shane Johnson gave up a somewhat cheap corner in the 44th minute. The ensuing kick set up perfectly for Hernandez, who scissor-kicked it off a defender, off the head of Soren Yohaschek, and into the goal. It seemed likely that Yohaschek had hit it from an offside position, but the sequence was too chaotic for any assistant referee, so the goal was awarded, and the home fans cheered what they hoped to be a third straight defeat of a USL side in the US Open Cup.
All was going well for Chattanooga until Harrisburg’s 65th minute introduction of the speedy Craig Foster. He immediately showed danger, making a cutting run into the box in the 66th minute, freeing himself for a shot that required a desperation sliding block by a Chattanooga defender.
Harrisburg continued putting the Chattanooga goal under siege. A penalty shout was (rightfully) denied as a header off a corner kick flew into the hand of Hernandez in the 68th minute. The equalizer was coming though.
And it did, in the 72nd minute as Foster slipped behind the Chattanooga defender at the near post and jabbed home the point-blank volley. The goal saved the USL side from possible elimination, but no one celebrated, instead picking the ball out of the net and running back to their half to restart the game. They were looking for the kill shot, understandable for a team in the midst of a grueling USL season.
Eight minutes later, Samuel Goni broke the Harrisburg back line, only to be called offside. The call, while quite unpopular among the partisans, seemed just correct upon replay. Harrisburg sprung on the counter and a moment later, Paul Wilson, another second-half substitute, struck home the kill shot after Foster drew the defense to his side of the box before laying it off to Wilson for the easy finish.
Not used to the US Open Cup rules of three substitutes per game (the NPSL allows seven) and in the midst of a match-heavy stretch, Chattanooga seemed gassed as the minutes ticked down on their Open Cup run. However, Hernandez and Luis Trude engineered one last effort, as Trude spun around a defender and fired a shot that deflected out for a 93rd-minute corner kick. However, the corner was headed away and the ref blew his whistle.