Union start US Open Cup journey: Does familiarity hinder the experience?

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The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is a unique soccer tradition. The open tournament sees amateur teams, PDL teams, USL teams NASL teams and MLS teams duke it out for a trophy. MLS teams enter in the fourth round, which takes place this week. With the regional set up of the tournament, many teams face familiar foes in the fourth round and the Round of 16. Does familiarity hinder the experience?

The Union have played Harrisburg City Islanders three times already in the fourth round of the US Open Cup. This included last years 3-2 win. The Union have always won against Harrisburg in this competition, and have often gone on to play DC United in the round of 16. DC won their fourth round match up agaisnt amateur Cinderella’s Christos FC. A potential round of 16 draw would see the Union play their rivals from the district if they get past Harrisburg, so is this familiarity good?

Does familiarity hinder the experience? Yes!

As Kevin Kinkead brilliantly points out in his Philly Voice article, this years north-eastern teams in the US Open Cup have all played each other at some point in past tournaments (except Christos FC). This has created familiarity that causes the Cup to lose its luster. The intention is to try to create rivalries in elimination games, but it seems like it’s not panning out as hoped.

When looking at the Union’s last three years particularly, they have played Harrisburg twice in the fourth round. All of those games have been at Talen Energy Stadium (PPL Park before 2016). There are maybe 800 people at the match, and while the games are usually full of suspense the empty stadium makes it feel like a practice match. However for the people who regularly experience these matches, there could be a silver lining.

Does familiarity hinder the experience? No!

The Open Cup presents an interesting feel in the opening rounds. The game play is good, and provides a David vs Goliath feel. Even though teams are familiar with each other, the lower division teams love to show their quality in this tournament. The tournament atmosphere, at least in the empty Talen Energy Stadium, provides a close experience for fans. The fans that are dedicated enough to show up and get closer to the field and experience the game with people who really care for the team. If the team advances to the latter stages of the tournament, and the stands fill up, the fans who went to the beginning will have a sense of pride of being there from the beginning.

The players love the experience of playing in on-and-done games. They also like knowing the other teams. Scouting, and preparing is made easier. Sure the familiarity doesn’t make for great storybook matches, and the luster of the competition may take a hit because of playing the same team year after year, but this competition is still magical. So let’s look at the Union’s fourth round match vs Harrisburg City Islanders.

A look at the actual game:

The Union are playing for the first time in over a week, and the rest was needed for this banged up squad. Saying that, don’t expect all the usual starters to play in this match. Curtin said in his pre-game press conference that his 11 will be players who have made starts this season, but aren’t the usual suspects. So who will play?

 

Who will play?

The Union’s lineup will look strong. The back line is the one that many will have wanted to see from the start of the year. All four will have the chance to impress Curtin to try to gain some ground on the back four of Gaddis, Onyewu, Elliot and Fabinho. The central midfield showcases the Union’s youth. Najem comes in to play the eight, his play making style has been on display at Bethlehem Steel this season. Derrick Jones comes in to play the role he played for the US-U20’s in the U-20 World Cup. He should be a ball winning machine at the six.

Epps and Ilsinho man the wings both trying to impress at these spots. Alberg comes into the 10 to try to win it back from Ilsinho, and Simpson looks to get back to his goal scoring ways. This side has a lot of experience and starts this season. This squad looks to start another US Open Cup run!

 

It’s time for the unique tournament that is the Open Cup:

The Union have a 10-3 record in this tournament under Jim Curtin. This match looks to provide the 11th win. Harrisburg has had trouble scoring of late, but two former Union players look to move the Islanders past the Union. Aaron Wheeler and Pedro Ribeiro provide strong scoring capabilities back to Chester. The Union look to win against a familiar foe, can they do it? Spend $15 and come see for yourself! If you aren’t willing/can’t come out to the stadium the match will be streamed online. Here’s a list of all the Open Cup Match streams.

 

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Follow me on twitter @TGing21 for Soccer Twitter fun! Coming soon: A look at the Union’s recent defensive lapse, a look back at weeks 14 & 15 of MLS play and a look at how the Union can keep pace with the rest of the eastern conference. Until then, peace out!

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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