As steady rain began to fall, thunder boomed and lightning flashed, some fans at the Philadelphia Union’s U.S. Open Cup title game watch party at The Schmidt’s Commons took cover, ducked into a local bar or went home.
But Dominic Grant, 26, wanted to stay outside to watch the second half on the big screen. So he covered the walking boot on his left foot with a plastic bag.
Grant and the other die-hards who attended the watch party saw the Union concede two goals in the first half and lose, 3-0, to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. Houston claimed its first U.S. Open Cup in a season that will likely end without an MLS playoff appearance, while Philadelphia lost its third Open Cup in the past five seasons.
Fans can look forward to Saturday’s road match against Columbus Crew SC. The Crew have a one-point lead over Philadelphia for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Union will enter the match with 19 points in their past nine games.
“[Former sporting director] Earnie [Stewart] put a lot of work in before leaving, and I think we’re starting to see it now,” said Grant, who has been in the Union’s Sons of Ben supporters group for eight years. “I’m happy about it. ...We’re seeing the signings now. We got [Borek] Dockal coming out, coming up big. Even Jay Simpson against Sporting Kansas City. I’m happy, but I’m still a Philly sports fan. Wet and disappointed is what I do.”
About 200-300 people went to watch Wednesday’s game, said Adam Booth, 28, a Sons of Ben capo. Despite the forecast, hundreds of people — ranging from families with children to 20-somethings — gathered for the game. Some opted to watch at Gunner’s Run, a bar at The Schmidt’s Commons. Before the game, fans lined up for last-minute beer purchases at the DGX store at the Piazza.
Fans watched a live pregame show that featured Ring of Honor member Sebastien Le Toux and jeered the opposing side when pregame host Dave Leno read the starting lineups. At kickoff, they chanted as if at the River End.
Excitement peaked and hit its low point within a span of a minute. In the fourth minute, a would-be goal by Fafa Picault was wiped off the board after an offside call. Moments later, Mauro Manotas scored the first of his two goals. Auston Trusty had an own goal in the second half to make it 3-0.
A thunder clap nearly coincided with the second-half kickoff. The group dwindled, but a solid number stayed until the end of the game. Booth led chants early in the second half.
“It’s good to see people are still out here to support,” said Tori Kranz, a 25-year-old Northern Liberties resident. “It’s been not the greatest weather and not the greatest outcome, but there’s still a lot of people having a good time.”
Marissa Castro, 33, and her husband Matthew brought their three sons — ages 6, 3 and 1 — to the event.
“We like to call them ‘Grandsons of Ben,’” she said.
Though the Union remain without a U.S. Open Cup, the opportunity for an MLS Cup remains. Philadelphia is 7-2-1 since its 3-1 win against Houston on July 21 and looking to stay hot. The Union have earned points in seven of their past eight MLS regular-season matches.
“When the Union didn’t make any move toward the transfer market, I was kind of curious about it because I saw that there was obviously holes, but the team stayed pat and it paid dividends,” Booth said. “This team is actually very talented. They came together very nicely. It was really not a matter of personnel, but putting them in the right positions.”
“Hopefully this is a blip,” said Nolan Bair, 24, who has been a fan for five years. “Cups are completely different. You can’t compare league and cup play ever. It’s a completely different environment. It’s a different animal.”