Ethan White has been through this before. In 2013, D.C. United was in the middle of the worst season in franchise history, and White helped that team earn their third U.S. Open Cup. Fast forward two years, and White has twice helped a struggling Philadelphia Union side get to the doorstep of the prestigious trophy.
White believes this season's run has kept the Union energized and focused. "Leading up to the Final always gives us something to look forward to and we keep working hard," he said. "You can't come into a big game like the Open Cup Final and afford to take a week off."
The Cup run has also kept the team's collective mind off the MLS season and onto the potential for the club's first trophy. "The season hasn't been what we wanted, but you never think that the season is going badly because you're still in the running for that trophy." But the trophy comes with more than just hardware. It comes with a trip to next year's CONCACAF Champions League. White admitted that is also a motivator.
"Guys always want to play in international games. I saw my old team playing in Panama and Jamaica. It's a lot of games to be playing, but any time you play out of the country it's an experience and a story you can tell at the end of your career."
The Union have made this Open Cup run on the back of an impeccable defense, and White has played a key part in that success. The Union have allowed just two goals in the four games, two of which went to extra time and penalty kicks to be decided. White was the centerback for all 120 minutes of that epic quarterfinal in New York, where the Union defended for nearly the entire match, enduring 73 crosses from the Red Bulls.
"It felt good coming out of a game after sustaining such pressure, especially when the entire team fought for the result," said White. "The good thing about a tournament is that you are rewarded for it and you advance to the next round."
And that game more than any other this year has prepared the Union for this year's final. "After being through such grueling games like that you know what it takes to win the next one, and I think we'll go into the Final knowing how much of a fight we'll have to put up."
The Union have just one more game to win to give Ethan White his second U.S. Open Cup trophy in three years. According to White, the successful Open Cup formula he's experienced for the last three years is very simple. "As a team we've always competed to the end. We haven't given up on any plays. In the Cup, we've just risen to the occasion and done our part and we've come out on top. Hopefully the Final goes the same way."
The experience and the mindset appear in place for the Union as they push toward the Final. The success of this season hinges on Wednesday's outcome, and a win could be the boost this franchise desperately needs.