On Wednesday night the Philadelphia Union took to PPL Park to battle for the U.S. Open Cup Championship against Kansas City in front of Philadelphia’s own home crowd. With the rain pouring down and emotions running high, the Union where in a spot much like the one the year before as this was their second visit to the US Open Cup in two years.
The Union took to their classic 4-2-3-1 formation with C.J Sapong up top and captained by none other than Maurice Edu. The match also saw Andre Blake starting as goalie over John McCarthy partly due to his spectacular match against New England the week before. Michael Lahoud also cemented his spot on the starting lineup over Brian Carroll in the defensive midfield position. While in arguably one of their best possible lineups, the Union were without Venezuelan international Fernando Aristeguieta because of a rule implemented by US soccer stating that there can be no more than five dressed internationals per match in the tournament.
Once the ball was kicked-off and the match was underway, both sides saw early chances for the attack. The Union came out playing aggressively: keeping the ball for the majority of the first half in Kansas City’s side of the field. Fabinho gave some great attacking runs from the left back position to support the offense, but Kansas City was able to take advantage behind of the misplaced defender and after a good attack they delivered a strike which managed to sneak past Blake only to hit the the far post.
The Union also saw many uncapitalized chances of their own in their offensive game. One of the biggest chances came when Sapong found the ball at his feet in a wide open area in front of the goal and delivered a weak strike right into the goalkeeper’s feet. Fortunately for the Union, after a well crossed ball from the back line, they were able to capitalize and score the first goal of the match with credit going to Sebastien Le Toux in the 23rd minute.
The teams took to the locker rooms at the half with the Union up 1-0 and the possession stats reading 50-50. The strong aggressive play by the team proved the be the difference in the first half and with still 45 minutes to go it was anyone’s game.
The Union came out and battled strong with their attacks unable to penetrate Kansas City’s back line. With that said, Kansas City came full throttle after the break. The Union, who lost in the final last year, were playing for a turn-around season and a first ever franchise trophy. The energy and aggression was high – proven by the 10 yellow cards handed out throughout the match.
Kansas City had their chance at redemption in the 65th minute. Krisztian Nemeth received a low cross in the box and one-timed it around the out-reached hands of Blake and into the back of the net. It seemed as though the Union lost their structure once they were all crammed back playing defense.
The match resumed from there and ran into extra-time and ultimately a penalty shootout. The Union made their first substitute in the late first half bringing on Conor Casey for Cristian Maidana and refused to make another until the second period of extra-time when they sent on Andrew Wenger for Sapong. The Union then held onto their final substitution until the very last minute of extra-time when they sent on goalkeeper McCarthy for Blake – a similar move to the 2014 third place World Cup Netherlands team when they sent on Tim Krul for Jasper Cillessen to win their quarter-final match.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out in the same fashion. The Union ultimately lost the match in a shootout 7-6. Misses from Edu and Wenger on the Union side and Nemeth on the Kansas City’s side was the deciding factor.
As disappointing as it is to lose in the Open Cup Final – and any final for that matter – there is a positive side to all of this. The Union proved that they could compete in a competitive league. With regards to the late season addition of Tranquillo Barnetta, the Union have been playing some of their best soccer these past few weeks and now we will have to see if this energy and undeterred motivation to win – regardless of previous outcomes – will carry over into next season with a fresh start.