Tonight the Philadelphia Union will enter the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round; They will welcome former club affiliate, Harrisburg City, to Talen Energy Stadium.
For both sets of supporters, a Harrisburg, Philadelphia draw is more than enough to warrant a few eye rolls, some yawns, and a whole lot of MEH.
Harrisburg City versus the Philadelphia Union has become a familiar early round fixture in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Since 2012, the two sides have met on four separate occasions, with the Union prevailing in each of their four meetings.
On Wednesday, the two Pennsylvania-based clubs will cross paths once more, and there is more than enough reason to believe that these paths are fated to conjoin again around this time next year.
Fans are not the only ones irked by the repetitive nature of the tournament. Both sets of managerial brass have been outspoken leading up to Wednesday night’s match.
Union manager Jim Curtin voiced his growing frustrations with the monotony of the Open Cup in his weekly presser. Curtin said the Cup “loses luster” when teams are drawn to face one another over and over again. He added that regional play has generated a “lack of buzz” amongst fans.
Rather strong charges from the gaffer. Curtin has never been one to hold back or bite his tongue. Although his track record shows that he may be hit or miss with his comments, Curtin is absolutely spot on, this time around.
An hour before kickoff and there are an abundance of tickets still available. There is a pretty good chance that more empty seats will take in the fourth round tie than Union fans.
Now, that is not to say the tie has much, if anything, to do with the poor attendance. In fact, it has always been this way. There are a bevy of reasons for this.
Partly because many fans hail far from Chester, which makes it difficult for them to attend a midweek match. Partly because many fans do not get home from work in time.
This article is for the other fans, the ones who choose to not take advantage of discounted tickets, free parking, splendid Summer nights on the waterfront, and perhaps the most exciting time of the year: cup time.
Don’t be mistaken by Curtin’s comments.
Despite a less than savory draw, the Union are gunning for the U.S. Open Cup. Here are a few reasons why capturing the domestic cup is of top priority to the Philadelphia Union, and why more fans should pay attention to the tournament.
S I L V E R W A R E
Fans may remember the popular song: “15 years … NO CUPS!”
It seems as if it were only yesterday that Union supporters were singing the song aimed at riling up the New Jersey faithful.
Fact of the matter is, the Philadelphia Union are fast approaching the 10 year mark without any major silverware in their own cabinet. Emphasis on major; the SunCoast Invitational trophy doesn’t cut it.
Two (short-lived) trips to the playoffs in eight seasons is not so bad considering the success, or rather lack thereof, of the other major sports teams in the City of Philadelphia.
However, it also shows that the Union have some work to do in order to establish themselves as a perennial playoff contender in Major League Soccer. An MLS Cup trophy is probably not going to be paraded down Broad Street, or Stadium Drive in Chester, anytime soon.
An Open Cup trophy, on the other hand, might be the Union’s best chance at a first piece of silverware, which is not bad considering the Open Cup is the United States’ equivalent of a Football Association Cup in England.
There is certainly no questioning the Union’s recent dominance in the tournament. Say what you will about favorable ties or lucky breaks, the Union have played some scintillating football, some of their best, in the Open Cup.
More often than not, a gift from a referee or costly mistake from an opposing player is hardly enough to take down the likes of an FC Dallas or New York Red Bulls; it is a total team effort for 90′ or more that is needed to take down a goliath.
Overcoming sides of that ilk and booking consecutive trips to the final in 2014 and 2015 respectively not only proves that the Union have performed well in the Cup, but it also shows how close the Union are to obtaining their first major trophy.
Fans who haven’t paid much attention to the Union’s recent cup runs might have missed out on the chance to revel in the splendor of triumphant upsets and Union football played at its very best.
Auston Trusty was signed to a homegrown contract last August. He has since plied his trade for Bethlehem Steel, the Union’s affiliate club, as well as the United States Under-20 National Team. Trusty has yet to appear for the Philadelphia Union.
Summer friendlies are always an ideal time for a manager to roll out the kids, so that they may gain some first team experience. Good in theory, but what good is it that they are playing alongside fellow academy players who they practice with week in, week out. There are relatively few first team guys out there with them.
And what are they really playing for anyway? There are no points at stake, no trophy to be lifted after the final whistle is blown.
Curtin has the luxury –– especially in the earlier rounds of the Cup –– of tinkering with his XI, sprinkling in younger players such as Auston Trusty, Adam Najem and Marcus Epps among first team regulars.
Experience of playing alongside veterans such as Chris Pontius or Oguchi Oneywu in a major tournament, at that age is invaluable. And with other teams potentially rolling out their best XI, it allows for Curtin to measure the readiness of younger players to compete at a high level.
Fans who pay for the measly $15 ticket or dedicate an hour-and-a-half to watch the match via live stream, will have the pleasure of getting a glimpse at the next generation of Philadelphia Union players.
Who knows? They might even witness another belter and series of excessive dabs from one Auston Trusty.
(CONCACAF) Champions League
Winners of the U.S. Open Cup are awarded a place in the CONCACAF Champions league –– the North American version of the UEFA Champions League. This is something most Union and MLS fans seem to forget.
Listen. While the tournament might not include the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid or even Paris Saint-Germain, it does include Saprissa, Club América and Monterrey –– arguably amongst North America’s best.
They are recognized not just on the continent, but around the world. Competing against teams of that caliber would only help grow the burgeoning Union brand well beyond the immediate Philadelphia region.
New sponsors, new fans and even potential players. As with any modern football club, growing your brand globally is important for not only attracting new members to your club, but for ensuring longterm financial stability. Just look at Glasgow Celtic.
And while the Union are certainly not at that level just yet, being pitted against North American giants would only raise the Union’s level domestically. If you can stick around with Pachuca, you can certainly compete with anyone in MLS.
Those dying to experience a Champions League night might soon get their wish, should the Union finally take care of #UnfinishedBusiness and lift a domestic cup anytime soon. For the meantime, Open Cup nights like these should suffice.
Aside from monotonous, regional cup draws, few things are actually certain in this tournament. That is the beauty of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.