So the Union get to put "Two time Open Cup finalist" in the trophy case. Weee. Having just got back from the Open Cup Final, I can honestly say that was one of the most gut wrenching losses I've had to endure as a Union fan. At least in last year's final against Seattle, you KNEW it was over without the penalty shoot out. This? This was worse. I don't need to explain that to you - if you're reading this you're probably a Union fan already, however before you reach for the Jonestown flavored Kool-Aid fellow fan, let's talk about what I took away from the the final.
In case you missed it, Jay Sugarman arrived and departed from the Open Cup final in a sweet looking ride. I looked up the tail number and found that the helicopter is owned by Heliflite Shares LLC in Newark, New Jersey. The rates are not public, however I was able to find that a 40 minute ride to the East Hamptons in Long Island would cost "just over" $3,000 in 2013. Looking at the Heliflite map, Philadelphia falls within the 40 minute "circle" that the East Hamptons are in. It's safe to assume the cost of the flight was probably no more than $10,000. Not a huge amount (relatively speaking), however the public perception of the Union's cheap ownership meant that landing on the practice field and then taking off as Union fans were streaming out of PPL Park after the loss meant that NOTHING about this was going to be taken well. It was another gaffe by the ownership that has continuously made missteps to this point. Arriving in the helicopter was an eyebrow raising move, leaving in it was catastrophic.
This is where we start getting into the nuts and bolts of the loss. In his post game press conference, Jim Curtin said that subbing Andre Blake for John McCarthy was discussed all week, however was it the right move? I don't really know. No one has really seen Blake in a shootout, but what I did notice was that several Sporting Kansas City players were clearly gassed by the start of extra time. The game was SCREAMING for Eric Ayuk to come in and start causing havoc, but Ayuk never saw the field. Along with countless other Union fans, I felt was a terrible decision. Ayuk causes fits for opposing teams because he isn't afraid to charge at opposing defenses, he more than likely could have drawn a few fouls, probably a red card. Benny Feilhaber remarked after the game that it was a "blessing in disguise" that McCarthy was subbed in because he is the one they had game planed on. Another problem with the coaching decisions is that there were no adjustments to Tim Melia constantly pushing the ball back into play at the top of the box. There were several instances that after the rain began to heavily fall on the field that Melia could not get a good hold on the ball at times. I kept expecting the Union to make the adjustment to have a player start lurking near the top of the box to wait for one of these rebounds, but it never came.
Ted Unkel should probably never referee an important game again. He gave out a grand total of 10 yellow cards. There were SEVERAL opportunities to dismiss Sporting Kansas City players that were not taken. His inconsistent referee style drove me absolutely INSANE. Andre Blake gets a kick to the head after catching a ball? Foul, no card. CJ Sapong makes a sliding dive for a ball that Melia catches and hurdles over him? Yellow for Sapong. I'm fine with calls against either team, I'm fine with players even from my own team being dismissed if they deserve it, however there were two or three times when a Kansas City player should have been given a red, but Unkel refused to be the guy who kicked a player out of the Open Cup Final. I'm not saying that Unkel cost the Union the game, but his inability or unwillingness to clamp down on fouls didn't help the Union's cause.
Wenger will get a huge share of blame for his missed shot that led to Kanas City lifting the Cup, and he does deserve some of it. He had a grand total of five minutes on the field, yet his shot was slow and easy to stop. I could argue that after having played 120 minutes, Maurice Edu had some tired legs under him. Wenger does not have that excuse. People will blame Wenger solely, but ultimately this was not his fault.
Lack of Focus
The Union should never bunker ball again. They are consistently terrible at it. The Union have the type of players that force a reaction from the other team. Vincent Nogueria, Cristian Maidana, and Tranquillo Barnetta are creative players that can generate an attack by themselves, however when they sit back and let the other team do what they want with the ball they allow the other team to pick how they want to hit the Union goal. The Union should have continued attacking Kansas City and made them react to our game plan instead of allowing Sporting to implement theirs in the second half.
The Union season is over. Yes, they're not mathematically eliminated but Montreal has a seven point lead as well as two games in hand. Also, unless the Chicago Fire go on a three game win streak (unlikely since they play the New England Revolution, D.C. United, and the New York Red Bulls) the top of the draft order in 2016 will probably look something like this.
1. Chicago Fire
Unless they win a few games (unlikely, I'm betting the Union go winless from here on out since this loss took the life out of them), the Union are duking it out with Colorado for the second pick in the draft. Whatever the outcome of the rumors of hiring Octavio Zambrano as Sporting Director are, the Union need to plan for the off season starting now. Don't try and spoon feed the fan base the idea that the playoffs are achievable - they're not. The Union's focus should now be how to improve themselves, player decisions should already be in motion after this match. Whatever the case, the Union can not rely on another Open Cup run for a chance at hardware in 2016, they must be a better team all around.