I’ll be the first to say it, the Philadelphia Union did not deserve to beat D.C. United in their U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday night.
The Wayne Rooney-led offense clearly dominated the second half, and controlled much of extra time as well. Matt Freese showed some of his inexperience, and almost let in numerous shots earlier in the match outside of the goals that got by him in the waning minutes of extra time.
Despite all this, there are still several positive to take away from the Union’s 2-1 loss at Audi Field.
Firstly, the Union started their B team back line and throughout the game the only player on that line who has been a consistent starter this season was Ray Gaddis, who came on the field in the 98’. Despite their inexperience playing together the back line, which featured two veterans with over 300 MLS games under their belt in Aurelien Collin and Fabinho, was able to hold back the D.C. United star-studded attack with Rooney and Luciano Acosta.
On the other side of the field, the Union were forced to play against a back line that was made up of mostly starters for United. While most of those players didn’t play the full 120 minutes of the match, each made it past 90 minutes, and Ilsinho, who is normally a substitute and generally only plays around 70 minutes when starting, was on the field for the full match.
While the loss is a painful one, particularly for Anthony Fontana who was in line for the game-winner, it means the Union can fully fix their sights on the league once play resumes after a two-week break.
Historically, the Union has fought for the Open Cup trophy as a way to get into the Champions League, but their current league standing has them in line for qualifying as the Eastern Conference winner and in a realistic position to compete for an MLS Cup.
Now that the Open Cup is out as an option, the Union will have the potential of being the well rested team playing against teams playing three matches a week due to the addition of Open Cup games to their schedules. Their next four games are all against teams — New England Revolution, New York City FC and Orlando City (twice) — that won their fourth round U.S. Open Cup matches this week.
With this, Philly can train more for a deep playoff run with its best team in club history. Whether or not they will be successful remains to be seen, but if there was ever a year to lose early in the Open Cup, it was 2019.