For the first time in the past three years the US Open Cup final will not be held in Chester Pennsylvania. The Union drew New England Revolution, but fell in penalty kicks 4-2. The result is a hard one to swallow for Union fans. The USOC has been one of the three American championships that the Union have actually had a shot of winning over the past few years; however, this year is different. The Union are (please God) going to make the playoffs, and actually have a chance of winning MLS Cup. They are ten points away from best record in the league; the team with the best record wins the supporters shield. With the USOC out of the picture the Union can focus on their league games, and getting back into the supporters shield race. The penalty loss is truly a blessing in disguise.
The US Open Cup game itself was a weird affair. The Revolution chose to host the event at Harvard University’s small soccer pitch. The pitch had a pair of small bleachers, and a short turf surface. There was a lot of back and forth in the game; the ball was moving quick on the turf, and no team could find possession early. The turf field also accounted for some harder fouls. When fouled, players took a tumble onto the hard looking turf. The falls were harder and it took a toll on players. The Union gave up many fouls in the first half, but the Rev’s couldn’t find a way to punish them for it; until just before halftime. New England won a free kick in a dangerous position, and as the Union were setting up their defense a quick pass was played into the box. Je-Vaughn Watson was left unmarked and ran free onto the ball. The defender smartly slotted the ball past the on-rushing Blake, and New England found the lead before the half. The Union needed a response but found it difficult to put the ball past Rev’s keeper Brad Knighton.
The second half was much like the first. fast transition play, crunching tackles, and plenty of chances for both teams. This game easily could have been a shootout, but both keepers were sensational. Andre Blake and ex-Union keeper Brad Knighton were as the commentator’s put it throughout the game “plastic men”. They stopped everything that came their way. Knighton seemed to have the easier of the saves, as the Union were not able to get good shots on goal. Any attempt usually flew right into the hands of Knighton; that is, until the last few moments of the game. In the dying seconds, the Union started some build up play down the right. Ray Gaddis found some space in the right corner of the box; he put a low cross into the box finding Sebastian Le Toux. Le Toux turned and saw Herbers open in the center of the box. Herbers took the ball off his chest and hit scissor kicked the ball into the turf. The ball flew up off the turf and into the top right hand corner of the net. The goal at the death of the game gave Philly all the momentum and confidence going into the two fifteen minute extra time periods.
In Extra time, both teams struggled to find quality chances, but both found chances thanks to fatigued defenses. The Union had a chance to put the game away. Ilsinho ripped a shot from outside the eighteen that looked like it was heading for the top corner of the net. It flew by the outstretched arm of Brad Knighton and skimmed the crossbar and went over. New England had a great chance as well. Some great combination play led to a chance for New England. Andre Blake was one on one with a Rev player, the shot came and Blake dove to his left to stone him. The ball bounced out to the center of the box, and was hit first time towards the open net, and Blake scrambled across the net to save it again. DOUBLE SAVE! The ball, falling slowly towards the net, was cleared by defender Richie Marquez. With those chances being the only dangerous ones, the game was forced to penalties, and that’s where the Union’s experienced shooters failed at the worst possible time.
The Rev’s won the shoot out 4-2. They only missed one penalty and it was a bad miss, wide of the net, but the Union missed two penalties that proved to be why they lost. The takers that missed for the Union were the ones you’d expect to be sure things. Sebastian Le Toux and CJ Sapong missed, and Ilsinho and Herbers made penalties for the Union. Le Toux’s run up was slow, and you could see where he was going to place the ball all the way! CJ Sapong tried to replicate his penalty that he scored against Red Bulls last weekend, but Brad Knighton watched tape on CJ and barely moved to stop the shot. Blake looked like anything but superman in net against the penalties, which seems to be the only time he’s not superman. All in all the performance was a forgettable one. It was unlike the Union from the last two years of pretty much flawless Open Cup play. Now that the tournament is over for Philadelphia they can put all their effort and concentration into succeeding in the league. But how can they turn around from their loss and recent inconsistent play?
The Union can, and should be able to, get a playoff spot, and now that they don’t have to worry about more games in August and September. They can keep all eye’s on getting good results in their games and reclaiming the East. The Union had a good hold on the east when things started to go south for them. Vincent Nogueira left the team, more players sustained injuries, and the defense let in goals that were not characteristic of this 2016 team. Since June first the Union’s league record looks like this: win, loss, win, loss, loss, win, draw. In the past seven games Philly has gain ten points and dropped eleven. During this stretch, the Union also played three Open Cup games and one friendly; they played two games a week for a long stretch. Even a team that is as fit as the Union struggled through the long stretch of two games a week. For the rest of the season, the Union only have one two game week left in the 2016 season. Now that the long streak of games has ended the Union can focus on the one opponent a week. They can study them, and practice more for them. This will help them get the results they need.
The Union now head to face Montreal. This Eastern conference showdown will be without the biggest star. Didier Drogba got a red card in Montreal’s last game, so the Union have a chance to beat a good team in their conference on the road. If the Union want to catch NYCFC they need to get the win; Philly is currently three points (one win) behind NYC. The Union did lose a tough game on Wednesday, but it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Focusing on one opponent once a week will better prepare the team for the task’s ahead. If the Union can prepare well, and play they way they have been built to play, then they can compete for the top spot in the East and a top spot in the league. Having a shot to win all three of the USA titles that are available was something Jim Curtin, and sporting director Earnie Stewart, were gunning for. Now the Union can only win two, and now they have more time to prepare to do so.
Photo credit: Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY Sports