While it may be cliché to talk about a second goal being the death knell in a soccer match, it was clear that the second goal ended Wednesday’s night Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final in the 25th minute when Mauro Manotas blew past two Union defenders and beat Andre Blake to double the lead.
Yes, the Union were down 1-0 after a tragic turn of events that saw Fafa Picault’s would-be goal waived off for an offside and Manotas putting the Dynamo on top seconds later in the 4th minute. But they were still controlling the match with 73 percent of the possession. They had two shots on target with one shot at the top of the 18 off target from Cory Burke and a Jack Elliott blocked shot from 12 yards out.
Then this happened.
The Union quit their game plan after that second goal.
They tried playing direct in their tactics, but were so ineffective that the Dynamo were able to sit back, absorb pressure and hammer the blue and gold on the counter. The Dynamo may not have been the more talented team, but they surely did not make any mistakes with the chances they have in front of net.
For a team that has played with the intestinal fortitude never seen by a Union squad on the road — their six road wins in league play that include a come-from-behind win at BBVA Compass Stadium after a 10th minute Monatas goal are a franchise record — the response came as a surprise.
The second goal newly revealed a look of terror at the premise of being down 2-0 with questionable game-changing options on the bench. Those options would be reigning MLS Player of the Week Jay Simpson, whose brace against SKC on Sunday earned him a spot on the field, and David Accam, who has severely regressed from the prolific goalscorer seen with the Chicago Fire. The panic set in for the young Union squad and it clearly showed in the timid play.
In the end, the Union controlled those first 25 minutes and still found themselves down two goals. The second goal ended the hopes of the fans, the players and Jim Curtin to finally get the monkey off their back and win the franchises first trophy.
Going into Wednesday’s match, the Union had a lot going for them: a better record, better form and arguably their best roster ever assembled. In the end, they looked ill-equipped and panicked after the second goal went in. They never recovered, never mounted a serious comeback and in the end suffered the most lopsided of their Open Cup final defeats with a 3-0 loss.
With four games left to play in the season, the Union still have a shot to host a playoff game with a few wins, but they will need to put this game far behind them and manage their disappointment and their nerves with the pressure about to rise to a boil.