The 102nd edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will come to a close tonight at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. The Philadelphia Union will host the championship game for the second year in a row, and for the second straight year, the club will try to win its first-ever trophy. On the opposing side, Sporting Kansas City are seeking a third Open Cup title and a sixth US Major trophy, something only three other clubs have done (LA Galaxy, DC United, Chicago Fire).
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and, for the first time, on the Univision Deportes Network. You can also join the conversation and share your photos during the match by using the hashtag #USOC2015 on Twitter and Instagram.
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Sporting Kansas City Open Cup records
Overall: 21-12-4 (2-2 PKs) | Away: 5-5-3 (1-2 PKs) | vs. MLS: 8-7-1 (1-0 PKs)
Last entry: 2014 (Lost 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers of MLS in Round 5)
Best finish: 2004, 2012 US Open Cup champions
Philadelphia Union Open Cup records
Overall: 9-3-3 (3-0 PKs) | Home: 8-2-1 (1-0 PKs) | vs. MLS: 4-3-2 (2-0 PKs)
Last entry: 2014 (Lost 3-1 in OT vs. Seattle Sounders of MLS in Final)
Best finish: 2014 Runner-up
SKC: Dom Dwyer 5 goals (No. 1 in tournament)
Philadelphia: Eric Ayuk 2 goals
SKC: Benny Feilhaber 4 assists (Tied No. 1 in tournament)
Philadelphia: Cristian Maidana 1 assist, Vincent Nogueira 1 assist, Sheanon Williams 1 assist
HOW THEY GOT HERE …
Round 4: 0-0 draw (3-1 PK win) vs. Rochester Rhinos (USL)
Round 5: 2-1 win vs. DC United (MLS)
Quarterfinals: 1-1 draw (4-3 PK win) at New York Red Bulls
Semifinals: 1-0 win vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)
If Philadelphia wins … they will win the club’s first-ever trophy and become the first Philadelphia-area club to win the tournament since 1966 (Ukrainian Nationals)
If Kansas City wins … they will win the club’s third US Open Cup title and become the second Kansas-based club to win the tournament (2012 – Sporting KC)
Both teams will enter Wednesday’s US Open Cup Final well-rested as the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City rested many of their starters in their respective league matches. This could make for an explosive title game at PPL Park. However, considering the defensive performances that both teams have shown this year, it could be a typical cup final, as they say, where goals are at a premium.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Defense has been the theme for Sporting KC in reaching a third Open Cup Final. Tim Melia has been in goal throughout the competition but he hasn’t been tested very much thanks to the backline in front of him. In their four games, they have held their opponents to 22 shots. Melia has only had to make nine saves. This is similar to the club’s 2012 championship run where Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen and Jon Kempin only needed to make 10 saves over five games.
Sporting began their run to the final in Round 4 where they edged Saint Louis FC (USL) 1-0. Graham Zusi scored the game-winner in the 70th minute. There was little drama in their next match, cruising to a 6-2 win against FC Dallas. Dom Dwyer became the first KC player to score a hat trick in tournament play when he scored four goals to go along with Krisztian Nemeth. Dwyer and Nemeth connected again in the Quarterfinals as they each scored a goal and dished out an assist in 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo. They punched their ticket to the Final with a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake thanks to Benny Feilhaber’s goal and an assist that earned him TheCup.us Player of the Round honors.
The Union’s run to a second straight final nearly ended where it started. Philadelphia hosted the Rochester Rhinos (USL) and the two teams went scoreless for 120 minutes before going to a penalty kick shootout. The Union had a secret weapon for the penalty kick shootout: goalkeeper John McCarthy. The former Rhinos netminder made three straight saves to send the Union into Round 5.
Next up, the Union faced another challenge in DC United (MLS). To make matters worse, Philadelphia’s CJ Sapong was shown a red card in the 24th minute, leaving the home team down a man for the remainder of the game. Despite falling behind 1-0 three minutes later, the Union rallied with an equalizer in the 56th minute by Eric Ayuk and what would prove to be a game-winner by Fabinho in the 79th minute. McCarthy made six saves to keep Philly in the game and beat United 2-1.
After a lengthy episode over who would host the game and when (the match kicked off at 4 p.m.), there was more shorthanded drama in the Quarterfinals as Philly’s Conor Casey was sent off in the 40th minute, leaving the visitors with 10 men at Red Bull Arena. Ayuk scored to put the Union up in the 55th minute and they were a minute away from claiming a surprising win in regulation but Lloyd Sam leveled the match deep into second half stoppage time. After a scoreless extra time, they went to penalty kicks and once again McCarthy came up big with an acrobatic save on a Sam attempt in the fourth round that sent the Union back to the Semifinals.
In the Semifinals against the Chicago Fire at PPL Park, the only goal came from Sebastien Le Toux in the 74th minute. For Le Toux, it was his 15th career tournament goal, which tops the Modern Era goalscoring chart.
The Union are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but their window is nearly shut. With three games left in the season, they are eight points behind Montreal for the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. It would take three wins and a massive collapse by the Impact to have any hope of a postseason berth. The Open Cup final represents Philadelphia’s only hope for a trophy and a chance to salvage what has been a disappointing campaign.
The month of September has produced some positive results for the Union. In four matches, they earned seven points, including a pair of wins against the San Jose Earthquakes and the Houston Dynamo. In their most recent outing, they traveled to Gillette Stadium and earned a 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution. Andre Blake stole the headlines and in the process, created a goalkeeper controversy as he set a new single-game club record with 10 saves. With John McCarthy earning a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over the Dynamo the week before, both keepers have earned the right to start.
A win would provide a boost toward building for next season as the winner of the tournament receives $250,000 in cash, $150,000 in allocation money and a spot in the 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League.
Kansas City are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, but their playoff spot isn’t set in stone. Sporting has four games to play and are two points ahead of seventh place San Jose. The month of September has not helped their playoff stability as they earned just one win in five matches (1-2-2). Their most recent outing was a national TV game on Sunday where they finished 1-1 with last year’s Open Cup champion Seattle Sounders. Dom Dwyer, the tournament’s leading goalscorer with five, bagged his 11th league goal of the season with a 79th minute equalizer.
The biggest connection between the two teams is CJ Sapong. The Union striker, who was acquired from Sporting Kansas City in an offseason trade, is having a career year with nine goals in league play. As a Sporting player, Sapong was on the 2012 Open Cup championship team that eliminated the Union in the Semifinals that year. (More on CJ Sapong in the links below)
Here is a collection of some of the best previews and Open Cup stories from across the web:
2015 U.S. Open Cup Final Intro Video
The Story of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup Semifinals
Road To The Cup (Philadelphia Union)
The journey to the Open Cup Final all in one GIF. pic.twitter.com/p5nXtlqc5X
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) September 29, 2015