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Recount Of The Drama That Unfolded At The US Open Cup Final

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Many know that while I am a huge soccer fan and a fan of my local Philadelphia Union, I am not a fan of MLS at all. While the quality of play leaves a lot to be desired, my main complaint with the league is the way it (for me) sucks the soul out of the game, with all of its complex rules for signing players, parity mechanisms such as player lotteries and drafts, as well as the fact that many games mean really nothing at all since over half the teams make the play-offs and there is no relegation. Finishing 10th gives you the same chance of winning the title as finishing third. Finishing last is no different than finishing 11th. In many ways it feels a bit contrived.

The U.S. Open Cup on the other hand is pure competition. Similar to the FA Cup in England, all professional teams compete in it and all semi-professional and amateur teams are eligible to qualify. It is a single elimination knockout tournament that has existed since 1914, making it the oldest club competition in the USA and actually one of the oldest in the world.

In a world of corporate power and big money, the recent popularity boost of the Cup is evidence of supporter power. Ignored by MLS and barely promoted by USSF, it was fairly under the radar until the Seattle Sounders took the tournament by storm, going deep in the bracket while still playing in a lower league, then winning it three straight times upon joining the MLS. Fan Interest increased and teams started taking it seriously, with Sporting KC finally knocking Seattle off their perch.

My home team, the Philadelphia Union, was formed by MLS five years ago and has been the epitome of mediocrity since its inception. Only one trip to the MLS Cup playoffs so far and only one decent run in the USOC meant that as fans we were starving for some success. This year, after a terrible start in the league, they began to carve out a cup run. An extra time win over Harrisburg City was followed by a very controversial extra time win over the legendary New York Cosmos. The Union found themselves in the quarterfinals, where they comfortably defeated the New England Revolution. In the semi-final they defeated FC Dallas on penalties, and the final was to be at home against the mighty Seattle Sounders.

So on the night of Tuesday, September 16, two of my friends and I made our way to our seats at PPL Park, about 15 minutes before kick-off. There was a nice tribute to Bethlehem Steel FC, who won the Cup five times early in its history, followed by all the pageantry typical of a cup final. Finally the teams took the field, the whistle blew and we were underway.

By then, the Sons of Ben (the Union’s lunatical fan club) were making quite the racket. A myriad of drums created such a frenetic and persistent rumbling one could have imagined Dave Lombardo and Mike Portnoy having a drum duel in the river end of the stadium (SoB’s: MAKE IT HAPPEN). The remainder of the sections roared through their catalogue of songs and chants, the rest of us joining in on occasion. The noise increased as the Union began to dominate late in the first half–and when Maurice Edu headed in a free kick, the stadium exploded into rapture. Here we were, with one hand on the trophy. Almost no one sat down until the halftime whistle, before which we almost got a second.

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However, by the time everyone had retaken their seats for the second half the Sounders had equalised. The tension grew as we found the Union almost always on the attack but constantly giving it away cheaply in the final third. The crowd began to turn on the referee, who was poor thoughout. Incompetent striker Conor Casey began to receive some overdue abuse, as well as “lazy” playmaker Mike Magdana. Collective groans greeted two gilt-edged chances that were squandered late in regulation time – one that went off the post, and the other a mis-hit shot at an open goal that allowed the goalkeeper to scramble back and save it. Extra time should have been avoided and everyone knew it. Still the Union continued their sloppy attacks and still we hoped for the glory that had been the width of the post away.

Once extra time began, it felt we were doomed from the start. Hearts were in mouths as Zach MacMath palmed away shot after shot, and frustration grew at every useless cross and misplace pass around the box when the Union attacked. Then Clint Dempsey broke toward the Philadelphia box, played a neat one-two with Obafemi Martin, calmly knocked it past the scrambling MacMath, and it was all over.

We stuck around for 10 more minutes, hoping for a miracle equaliser, but when Seattle scored on a late breakaway, we joined the masses streaming to the exits, completely dejected. We had been the width of the post away from the first ever title in club history, only for it all to come crashing down. Our team made us believe. They went toe-to-toe with the tournament favourites, but ultimately couldn’t put it away.

But that’s football, isn’t it?

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Awful Awful Knight

    September 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    >> Dave Lombardo and Mike Portnoy having a drum duel in the river end of the stadium (SoB’s: MAKE IT HAPPEN).<<

    Something tells me Portnoy would only support NYCFC…

  2. VamosCosmos

    September 18, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Good outcome. 8)

  3. CTBlues

    September 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Dream Theater \m/

    USSF needs to actually do something to promote the US Open Cup. Build the last couple rounds of the TV rights in with something like they do with MLS and USMNT. It’s a joke that the game is on GolTV ESPN3 would be better than that.

    As for the playoffs I would be a fan of having them in season and use the results from the previous season almost like our own Champions League. Have them start 2 weekends after the US Open Cup Final and have those be the only games on that Saturday.

    • Flyvanescence

      September 18, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      \m/

  4. Justin

    September 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I’m so tired of people complaining that the MLS isn’t set-up the same as leagues around the world. We will always have playoffs as that is part of American culture. You get all your fun relegation system stuff in the other leagues, and something different in the MLS. Not saying you have to like it, but get over it already and move on.

  5. John

    September 18, 2014 at 11:42 am

    This article loosely translates to I’m too much of a Euro snob bitch to like MLS

    • Flyvanescence

      September 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      You mean the first two paragraphs? If thats how you want to take it. To each his own, but i do not enjoy MLS. However if you took the time to read the main part of the article, you might see that i very much enjoy domestic soccer, just not MLS.

  6. Bob

    September 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Mike Magdana???? You mean Cristian Maidana … please learn the names of the players on the team you support. How is Conor Casey incompetent?

    • Flyvanescence

      September 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Ill admit my mistake on Maidana. Didnt take enough time to review as i wrote this on my free time, have a busy schedule and wanted to get it out while it was still relevant.

      And please, Casey is as competent as a wet blanket. A poor man’s Andy Caroll.

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