WHEN: Wednesday September 30th.
WHERE: PPL Park, Chester PA.
TV SCHEDULE: ESPN2, WatchESPN and Univision Deportes.
Now that Saturday's game against New England Revolution and all the associated analysis is over, everyone can now focus on what should be the busiest, and most exciting week in the Philadelphia Union's season. It's Cup Final week, so take a look back at why Rich Ransom hates Sporting Kansas City, reasons that Cup Final week is the greatest week in sports (part 1 and part 2), and how Jim Curtin has one heck of a decision to make as to who the starting goalkeeper will be, among other interesting analyses, stories and previews.
In terms of the matchup, this is the second meeting between the teams this season, as well as the second meeting in the US Open Cup, with the two teams having met in the 2012 US Open Cup Semifinal. In both cases, it has been the team from Kansas who have won, 2-0 in 2012 and a 3-2 win earlier this season, in one of Rais M'Bolhi's disastrous starts.
Overall, the Union record isn't that bad, considering that Sporting KC has been one of the top teams in the league for the past few seasons. The Union have won four, drawn four and lost six of the 14 games the two teams have played. This includes a few crazy wins in Kansas, where the Union have hit on the counter to take all three points, as well as an incredible 4-0 victory at PPL Park in 2012 just after John Hackworth took charge. The Union certainly have rarely been outplayed by Sporting, and this should leave them confident enough in getting the surprise result.
In more recent history, both teams decided to rest their starters for the weekend games, with Philadelphia having taken a point up in Foxboro against the New England Revs.In Kansas City, Sporting decided to rest players, along with Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber, who were suspended. This led to a draw, meaning that in their previous seven games, Sporting have one win, two draws and four defeats. It is therefore surprisingly the Philadelphia Union who come into the game in the better form, having won three and drawn two of their last seven games.
Both teams should have close to a full lineup available for selection, although it must be remembered that there is a limit of five international players in the US Open Cup. Philadelphia have welcomed back Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu from injury recently, and they should be good to go. This means that instead of worrying over injuries, it is who to pick that is giving Jim Curtin a "nice" selection headache. There's a battle between Andre Blake and John McCarthy in net, and a decision over Michael Lahoud or Brian Carroll as the defensive midfielder. There is also a less likely option of having Maurice Edu as the DM and playing Steven Vitoria beside Richie Marquez in defense.
Sporting Kansas City have a long-term injury loss in Roger Espinoza, who is out for a while with a broken foot. Amobi Okugo is cup-tied having played in the US Open Cup for Orlando City earlier in the season, but would likely have missed out due to injury anyway as he is currently sidelined with a knee sprain. Defender Ike Opara is also missing with a ruptured Achiles tendon, but has been out since April after a strong start to the season.
Predicted Philadelphia Union Lineup (4-2-3-1)
John McCarthy; Raymon Gaddis, Maurice Edu (capt), Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Michael Lahoud, Vincent Nogueira (int); Tranquillo Barnetta (int), Cristian Maidana (int), Sebastien Le Toux; CJ Sapong. Bench: Andre Blake, Ethan White, Brian Carroll, Andrew Wenger, Eric Ayuk (int), Conor Casey, Fernando Aristeguieta (int).
Note - I think that Jim Curtin has promised John McCarthy the start, and will give it to him despite Blake's incredible performance on Saturday. I also think that it will be Steven Vitoria who misses out in terms of being the 6th international, with Open Cup hero Eric Ayuk and DP striker Fernando Aristeguieta making the 18. Youngster Zach Pfeffer will miss out to Andrew Wenger due to Wenger's ability to play full back if needed.
Maurice Edu vs Dom Dwyer
Sporting KC's biggest threat is Dom Dwyer. It is going to be up to the Union captain to keep an eye on him. Edu was solid enough on his return from injury, helping to blank the Houston Dynamo; however Dwyer is a much different proposition than Edu faced against Houston. Dwyer will be running around a lot more, and that will require Edu to be very vigilant, as it won't take much of a slip for the Englishman to score. If Edu can keep his concentration for 90 minutes, it could be a great day for Philadelphia.
CJ Sapong vs Matt Besler
It could be a difficult day for CJ Sapong. It is likely that Philadelphia are going to sit back, give possession to Sporting KC and hit on the break. That is going to require Sapong to hold the ball up, allowing Le Toux, Maidana, and Barnetta to get up to support him. If Sapong can do this, and possibly target the smaller Besler, it could be a great platform to build on. This will allow Maidana to get into the game, and with the goalscoring form that Sapong has been in, the ex-Kansas City player can haunt his former team in a big game.
Cristian Maidana or Benny Feilhaber
Perhaps the biggest battle on the field isn't necessarily a one-on-one battle. The winner of the US Open Cup could be decided by which of the two playmakers can dominate the game. While everyone is (rightly) talking about Sebastian Giovinco and Robbie Keane in terms of MVP, perhaps the guy that has quietly had as good a season is Benny Feilhaber. Benny has 10 goals and 14 assists this season, and will be looking to get silverware to add to a fine season.
While he hasn't gotten on the scoresheet as much as Feilhaber, Cristian Maidana has also had a great season. In only 1986 minutes, Maidana has had 14 assists and created many more chances that the Union forwards have been unable to score. This is the same number of assists that Feilhaber has had in much more time (2416 minutes). While it would be great to see Maidana get more goals, the assists show how important he is for Philadelphia.
One of these players may well have a Cup Final MVP award to pick up after the final whistle. If the Union are going to win, that player has to be Maidana.
A game at PPL Park should never be easy for the away team. While going by overall records, only Sporting KC would be expected to win this game, but cups are never won on paper. This time, the Union make up for last year's disappointment and take the trophy with a 2-1 win - Maidana with both assists for CJ Sapong and Tranquillo Barnetta.