Commentary

What a long, strange trip it’s been: Union return to U.S. Open Cup Final

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Don’t look now, but your Philadelphia Union will host a cup final for the second straight year.

Yes, this is the same Union that currently occupies 19th place in the MLS regular season standings.

Yes, this is the same Union that lost seven of nine games in the spring and witnessed a fan protest.

And yes, this is the same Union that banished its marquee goalkeeper and lost its eventual goal-scoring leader to a broken face and a DUI in the same season.

That’s why the club’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final is deserving of so much credit and praise. All of the adversity and bizarre circumstance considered, it’s really one hell of an achievement.

Just to highlight how ridiculous the road to the final was, let’s do a brief recap:

June 16: Union 0-0 Rochester (3-1 APK)

Philly slogs to a scoreless draw with the third-division Rochester Rhinos. Backup goalkeeper John McCarthy, filling in for the cup-tied Brian Sylvestre, saves three penalties to send the Union into the fifth round of the competition.

June 30: Union 2-1 DC United

DC United brings a few second team players to PPL Park. C.J. Sapong is sent off in the 24th minute for god knows what:

Philly goes into halftime down a goal, then equalizes through Eric Ayuk in the 55th. Jim Curtin gambles with a “false 9” formation and Cristian Maidana plays in Fabinho for the game winning goal. Philly advances to the quarterfinals.

July 21: Union 1-1 NYRB (4-3 APK)

New York attempts to reschedule this game due to interference with two International Champion’s Cup games that were booked at Red Bull Arena back in the winter. The Union front office plays hard ball and forces NY to play the game at 4pm, then funds and organizes a successful bus trip for Union fans. Conor Casey is sent off in the first half, then Vince Nogueira assisted with a ridiculous, inhuman solo effort. 10-man Philly goes through on penalties with McCarthy again coming up big between the pipes and is named Player of the Round.

August 12: Union 1-0 Chicago

Philly cruises to a 1-0 win against a Chicago side that quite frankly turned in an awful performance. This one didn’t have any red cards, extra time, penalty kicks, or weather delays. Curtin turned to Michael Lahoud, playing just his second game after a three-month injury layoff, to cover for the key absence of Nogueira in the Union midfield. The bracket-like pairing of Lahoud and Brian Carroll meshed with a solid rearguard effort to post a second straight clean sheet.

In summary, this run to the final included two Union red cards, two sets of penalties, a false 9, a 4 pm weekday game, and a Fabinho game-winning goal. The defense kept two clean sheets and conceded just twice, surviving Red Bull Arena in the process.

The Union front office deserves credit for that New York situation. Red Bull cornered themselves when they scheduled those ICC games on days that were reportedly blacked out for USOC competition. Nick Sakiewicz and company played hard ball and tried to leverage the situation in their favor. Any team would have done the same in that situation and Philly definitely got it right.

Curtin deserves credit for the false 9 gamble in the DC game, and also for his decisions in the semifinal. Cristian Maidana was moved back into his preferred No. 10 role, and you saw how influential he was on the night. Lahoud was trusted in the midfield and was asked to stay on the field even when he wanted to come off.

And what can you say about Sebastien Le Toux? This hasn’t been his best season, but he scored the goal that put the team into this final.

I’ll leave this here:

Take it away Jerry:

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me,
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

13 Comments

  1. Still waiting for the foul to occur… Six weeks later.

  2. So the Union have not given up an Open Cup goal when they have 11 men on the field.

  3. Now, can we PLEASE pack PPL for the final? PLEASE? Everybody start inviting your friends. As awesome as that game was last night, the attendance was so sad.
    .
    My favorite (bittersweet) Union memory is still the Open Cup final last year. Despite the heartbreaking loss, the energy of the crowd was unreal. This team needs that again for this final.

    • this will happen. there’s significant time for promotion and we did it right last year. it’ll be a blast.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Yeah last year’s Final was the best game I have ever been to at PPL, and I’m a Founding Member.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        The Final is certainly up there. I do remember a comeback from down four to New England several years ago when we simply ran them into the ground, though. Also a founding member.

    • I bought my tickets to the Final last year early because I thought they would be high in demand, however attendance ended up being around 15k which was disappointing. I’m hoping more fans are up for this Final because that 15k last year was the loudest I’ve ever heard the stadium.

    • Are tickets on sale right now I didn’t see it?

    • While attendance may have been sad as opposed to other fans begging people to attend I want to see the FO beg people to attend by selling the team or changing the leadership. I agree it is a significant game and likely lots of people will show. But can’t say from a FO needs to improve point of view, that I wouldn’t mind seeing under 5,000 people there for the final just to get a point across.

  4. What can we say about Le Toux? 98% of the time terrible and 2% of the time brilliant! Can’t wait for the Final. Hope that the FO advertises this game better and hope that a lot of you call the various soccer shows on XMSirius a lot more. Am I the only one listening/calling them?! Show you passion for this Final on national radio!
    .
    Kevin, was glad you were on today after me. Gave the whole nation a shock treatment of Philly soccer!

    • Can’t agree with the 98% of the time terrible yes this season he hasn’t been good, but he is the teams all time leader in goals and assists. If he did that while being 98% terrible then I guess the rest of the team is 99.9% terrible.

  5. Phil in Wilmington says:

    Very conflicted about the Union’s success in this tournament as it allows the front office to
    Point to it and say “see? We know what we’re doing over here…”

    You don’t

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