So it comes down to August 12th...before it possibly comes down to September 29th or 30th if the Union manage to make it that far. However, they must first overcome the David vs. Goliath-like matchup in the semi-finals with the Chicago Fire.
Okay, I lied.
This isn't David vs. Goliath; it's more like David vs. David. If this were a UFC matchup, the weigh-in stare down would basically be both opponents tripping over their own feet and falling flat on their faces...at the same time. As of my writing this, the Philadelphia Union are currently sitting on a whopping 23 points and have an amazing lead over their upcoming opponents, the Chicago Fire who have...22 points. Both teams have ownership that fans would gladly see gone and both teams have some talented players on their respective rosters.
Looking at the numbers for both teams going into this match made me want to reenact the pea soup scene from The Exorcist. The Union have given up the most goals in MLS (40) while the Chicago Fire have scored the third fewest (24). The Union have a 0.96 PPG average while Chicago's is an even 1 PPG. The Union have a -13 goal differential while Chicago are -11. The Fire's second highest goal scorer is Jeff Larentowicz (4 goals). MLSSoccer.com lists him as a defender.
The Union meanwhile are limping into this contest with injuries to some big players. Vincent Nogueira will more than likely miss this match with the quad strain that kept him from the Orlando match. Andrew Wenger may not play as he is still recovering from a concussion he suffered in the match against Toronto. Maurice Edu's status is still unclear as he didn't get the start against Orlando (though he was on the bench). Cristian Maidana suffered an injury that he was nursing at the end of the Orlando game but no official word on his status as of yet. It's more than likely that it was just a cramp due to the heat and humidity but fans should still be slightly concerned.
Basically, if the Union are going to win, they're going to have to do it without some players. Meaning their depth, as thin as it is, will be tested even further. While the Union may be celebrating their 0-0 draw against Orlando, the fact remains that Orlando wasn't exactly fielding a full strength team as well. So it's safe to say that the Union probably breathed a collective sign of relief knowing that Brek Shea wouldn't be roaming the pitch. The Union are going to heavily rely on C.J. Sapong and hope that he's got plenty in the tank to roam the field with pace. They will also be saying a prayer to the injury gods that Maidana is 100% because without Nogueira, the Union will be relying on Maidana to generate attacking chances (at least until Barnetta is more integrated with the team).
As for Chicago, the biggest offensive threat they have is Designated Player David Accam. In 14 games played, Accam has scored 6 goals with 1 assist. While he hasn't been tearing the league up, it's safe to say that Accam is capable of doing some damage.
The real stakes here are more than just a shot at playing for the Open Cup. There are managerial jobs on the line. In this case Jim Curtin and Frank Yallop. Curtin walks into this game with a league record of 13-18-11 record while Yallop is 8-13-18. It's safe to say the both teams have had utterly disastrous seasons to this point the Open Cup is the MAIN thing that both teams are pushing for. Whichever team fails to advance to the Final, there is the very real chance that the losing coach could be getting their walking papers at the end of the season. The Union are on course to finish with the worst record in team history and Chicago themselves are in the running to, at the very least, give the 2004 Chicago Fire a run for their money (33 points). There are rumors (and they are ONLY rumors) that Curtin could very well be on the chopping block should the Union fail to win the Open Cup AND the Union fail to make the postseason (likely given their current standings and form).
Having said all that, it should be a fun game to watch. Yes, it's two teams that are terrible in league play, but sometimes when there are two teams that have EVERYTHING on the line in a do-or-die match, magic can happen. Neither the Philadelphia Union or Chicago Fire can be blamed for the "better" teams not taking the Open Cup seriously, but I'm sure both are thankful. However, I think that the Union should be able to put away the Chicago Fire and scrape out a 2-0 win (whether it be during the 90 minutes is entirely up to you to decide).