The Union play for their first trophy on Wednesday in Houston.
In a season full of big matches, this is by far the biggest for the Union. A win on Wednesday sees the boys in blue hoist their first trophy and earn an automatic berth to CONCACAF Champions League, as well as eases the memory of their two Final losses in 2014 and 2015. A loss sees them go home empty-handed from a Final for the third time in five years.
As big of a big game this is for the Union, it’s even bigger for the Dynamo. While the Union sit pretty in the Eastern playoff picture and are virtually guaranteed entrance to the MLS Playoffs, Houston is all but eliminated from the playoffs, given less than a one percent chance by 538 to make the post-season tourney. They are in the position the Union held three years ago: an MLS season lost, with only the Open Cup to potentially redeem a lost season. Their entire season rides on whatever happens on Wednesday, and this makes them dangerous.
Another thing that makes Houston dangerous is their home field advantage. In fact, Houston hasn’t played a match of the Open Cup away from BBVA Compass Stadium, winning several draws along the way which decided who would host each match. However, the Union beat the Dynamo in Houston in league play two months ago almost to the day in a decisive 3-1 victory, which saw Mauro Manotas tally early for the home side only to see Union captain Alejandro Bedoya level the score before half. Tomas Martinez was sent off in the 59th, and the Union took advantage with a goal by Cory Burke in the 70th minute and a well-struck penalty by Fafa Picault to close the match.
The boys in blue are 7-1 this year in midweek matches across all competitions.
The two sides play different styles; Houston loves to run and gun, going end to end and turning the match into a track meet, while the Union plays deliberately and focuses on defense first. Whoever can impose their style on the other will go a long way to figuring out who will hoist the trophy. The Union have had severe problems in recent matches containing balls over the top of their defense, and they may well need the likes of Andre Blake to play a kind of sweeper keeper in order to stop the high percentage chances we saw Montreal and Seattle generate in the last week and a half against the Union.
The Union are well-rested, having spelled or substituted many regulars into the match against Kansas City on Sunday to get a little work in. Both sides should be fit and ready for this match.
Who wins this? By my estimation, this is the best Union team to ever challenge for the Open Cup. It’s a team with a stud goalkeeper, a young, skilled striker, a dynamic midfield with three guys who can distribute the ball, and a young but talented back line that has the makings of a defense for years to come. Is it enough to beat the wounded but proud Dynamo in Texas? I say yes.
Union 2, Dynamo 1