For the second year in a row, the Philadelphia Union have watched another team lift the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Trophy in PPL Park.
Sporting Kansas City triumphed in penalties, 7-6, to hand the Union their second Open Cup Final loss in as many years. Only six other teams (Brooklyn Celtic, Pawtucket Rangers, St. Louis Shamrocks, Morgan Strasser, Orange County SC, San Pedro Yugoslavs, New York Inter-Giuliana) have the distinction of losing in consecutive Open Cup Finals.
We were treated to eight rounds of near-perfect penalty kicks. Maurice Edu, Krizstian Nemeth, and Andrew Wenger were the only players who failed to convert, Wenger critically so.
Prior to the shootout, Coach Jim Curtin opted to bring on John McCarthy, whose Open Cup and penalty shootout success nearly earned him the start in the Final, in favor of Andre Blake, who did receive the start on Wednesday. There is precedent for this, as former Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal did the same thing with Jasper Cillessen and Tim Krul in the 2014 World Cup. That doesn't make it any less batshit crazy. Holding a sub for two hours in anticipation of a penalty shootout is, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, absolutely foolish. McCarthy did fine, saving one penalty and reacting well to the seven conversions, most of which were practically unstoppable. Blake hardly could have done worse. This wasn't something that needed to take priority over any tactical substitution that could have made a difference during regulation.
As for the 120 minutes of gameplay that now appear to be a mere lead-in to the high drama that was the penalty shootout, it was pretty fun. Wet grass and a steady mist in addition to the jitters that come with a cup final made for a deliciously sloppy match. The entire game felt like the 85th minute, as there was a sense of urgency, from fans and players alike, from the first whistle.
The Union struck first in the 23rd minute, when Sebastien Le Toux scored thanks to one of the finest passes ever made at PPL Park. Look at this. Look at this. It was a goal truly deserving of the occasion, and despite the result, it's something that will long be cherished.
Sporting KC's equalizer was just as magnificent. Nearly halfway through the second half of the first set of halves, that is, in the 65th minute, Krisztian Nemeth first-timed a curveball into the inner side-netting. Two Andre Blakes wouldn't have stopped it.
Despite the goals, the story of the first two hours may have been the sheer physicality of play. The game's aggressively attacking nature resulted in a deluge of fouls. Referee Ted Unkel, overwhelmed by the sheer number of infractions that he witnessed on Wednesday night, simply rewrote the rules as he went along. Sure, in another game, maybe he would have red carded Jordi Quintilla for his poorly timed, studs-up challenge on Michael Lahoud, but there were simply too many egregious violations of the sport's rules for Unkel to pore over each and every little two-handed shove or full nelson. At one point, Chance Myers kicked Andre Blake in the face and only received a warning. This was a game where a player could drive his foot into another player and be told that they better not get caught doing it again.
As we all struggle to comprehend how the Union keep finding ways to shatter the pieces of a heart they broke many years ago, I leave you with this video. We'll have more analysis of and reaction to this jerk of a match in the coming days (sorry).