John McCarthy of the Philadelphia Union in a PK shootout againt the Rochester Rhinos in Round 4. Photo: Greg Carroccio | Philadelphia Union
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the 102nd Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will come to a close with either the Philadelphia Union winning its first title or Sporting Kansas City lifting the trophy for the third time. Based on their largely second-choice lineup selections in their last league games, both teams plan to field their best eleven players to earn themselves a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The question is: Who should start in goal?
Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City has a much easier decision as Tim Melia is the most experienced netminder on the roster. Melia has started every US Open Cup game for KC and has played well due, in large part, to the defense in front of him making his job easier. In four matches, he’s only faced 22 shots and has only had to make nine saves.
On the other side, there’s a much more difficult call to make as Andre Blake and John McCarthy have both earned the right to start the game and Union head coach Jim Curtin said it will be a “huge decision.”
McCarthy has started every Open Cup game for the club and has been exceptional throughout, earning TheCup.us Player of the Round once (Quarterfinals vs. New York Red Bulls) and nearly winning it a second time. He has two clean sheets, a pair of shootout victories and on two seperate occasions, the Union played shorthanded for most of the match after first half red cards. Whether he starts the Final or not, McCarthy’s 0.43 goals against average will certainly earn him some votes for TheCup.us Player of the Tournament.
Blake, a Jamaican international, is coming into the Final after posting a single-game club record 10 saves in a 1-1 draw on the road against the New England Revolution. Combined with games on international duty, the former No. 1 overall pick looks to be back in form after missing most of the season due to injury.
“In the past six games or so, they’ve gotten an equal share if you add up Andre’s Jamaica games in there,” said Curtin. “We wanted to get a fair look at both of them. It’s a good situation because both are playing well – John as recently as Houston gets a shutout [on Sept. 20] and Andre puts in what was a pretty darn impressive performance vs. New England.”
Does loyalty play a role in this goalkeeping dilemma? Since 1995, just seven goalkeepers have started every game for their team en route to a US Open Cup title. The last time a team stuck with the same keeper throughout and lifted a trophy, Curtin was a player with the Chicago Fire in 2006. Matt Pickens was the starter from start to finish as the Fire won their fourth Open Cup championship. In fact, the goalkeeper opposite him, Kevin Hartman of the Los Angeles Galaxy also played the entire tournament. If Melia and McCarthy start on Wednesday, it will be the first time since that year that both finalists featured netminders who had started every game of the tournament.
In the end, Curtin says that loyalty is secondary.
“Coaches make decisions to win games,” Curtin said. “You have one opportunity to win a final, and we’ll field our top team – our best 11 guys and the guys that we believe can go out there and do a job. Everything during the buildup happens for a reason, everyone plays a role in getting you to the final. But, from there, you have to select the team that gives you the best chance to win.”
This isn’t the first difficult goalkeeping decision for the second-year manager. Last year, during their run to the Final, the Union started Blake in the first two games and Zach MacMath in Quarterfinals and Semifinals. Even with new signing Rais Mbolhi in the mix, Curtin went with MacMath in the championship game.
“There’s a big decision to make there and I’m confident that both of them can get us a win, whichever one I decide.”
TheCup.us Notes: Finals featuring GKs who started every game
(Modern Era: 1995-present)
Richmond Kickers (Jeff Causey) vs. El Paso Patriots (Jake Arrambide)
Kickers won 4-2 in PKs after 1-1 draw
Columbus Crew (Jon Busch) vs. LA Galaxy (Matt Reis)
Crew won 1-0
Chicago Fire (Matt Pickens) vs. LA Galaxy (Kevin Hartman)
Fire won 3-1