Union fail to advance in the US Open Cup with a 2-1 loss to DC United

The Philadelphia Union’s 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup campaign ended quickly as they lost on the road to DC United by a 2-1 score.

DCU starting XI: Seitz; Mora (McCann 96′), Brillant, Birnbaum, Robinson (Amarikwa 90′); Jara, Bustamante (Yow 73′); Rodriguez, Acosta, Segura; Rooney

Union starting XI: Freese; Fabinho (Real 90′), Collin, McKenzie, Mbaizo (Gaddis 98′); Medunjanin, Bedoya; Picault (Zandi 100′), Monteiro, Ilsinho; Santos (Fontana 109′)

The big question going into this game was, who would play? For an MLS match, we could make a pretty good prediction as Jim Curtin doesn’t do much tinkering with his lineups. The the US Open Cup is a different animal. A team can only have five foreign players on the gameday roster. On top of that, the match is scheduled during a FIFA international period, so some players are missing due to commitments with their national teams.

That means no Andre Blake, and no Auston Trusty, and no Brenden Aaronson due to international duty. With the international player limit, no Kai Wagner, no Jack Elliott, and no Kacper Przybylko. And no Marco Fabian either, but he’s still nursing his ankle anyway. US Soccer does allow MLS teams to borrow players from their associated lower division clubs. The Union utilized this to bring up Zach Zandi, Issa Rayyan, and Ben Ofeimu from Bethlehem Steel.

Jim Curtin’s starting XI was a mix of the familiar and the unusual. He went back to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Santos up top. His midfielders were comprised of guys we’re used to seeing, with Ilsinho getting a start for a change. But the back line was one we have not seen before now. Olivier Mbaizo, Aurelien Collin, Mark McKenzie and Fabinho all got rare starts, and Matt Freese was called upon to fill in for Blake.

The Union started out strong, dominating possession for the first 10 minutes. But as the half wore on, DC United started generating chances. The Union’s best chance in the half came when Fafa Picault blew by the DC defenders with his speed and shiftiness, but his shot ended up getting deflected. Neither team could find a goal though, and the match was scoreless going into halftime.

DC United came out strong in the second half, controlling the run of play. By the 75th minute, it appeared that the Union’s midfielders were running out of steam. However, the back line played well, and despite numerous chances by DCU, the match remained scoreless at the end of regulation time.

The US Open Cup is a knockout tournament, so this meant 30 minutes of extra time, and an extra substitution for both teams. This allowed Curtin to give Zandi an opportunity with the big club when Zandi replaced Picault in the 100th minute. Anthony Fontana got some playing time too when he came in for Santos nine minutes later.

Neither side could take control in the first 15 minutes, but the second “half” of extra time was a different story. After 113 minutes of offensive frustration, the Union scored the first goal of the match when Jamiro Monteiro deftly slid the ball into the box between DCU defenders to Fontana, who calmly turned around and shot the ball into the net.

The good feeling didn’t last long though. Three minutes later, Freese came out from the goal to attempt to grab a Wayne Rooney corner kick, but he misjudged it. The ball ended up falling to Chris McCann, who put it into the empty net in front of him. Now it was 1-1 with just a couple of minutes to go. It was looking like this match could end up being decided by penalty kicks.

But it wasn’t. Alejandro Bedoya purposely tripped Luciano Acosta in the box as Acosta was driving toward the goal. Bedoya got a yellow card, and DC United got a penalty kick. Wayne Rooney took it and put the ball into the left side of the net to give DC United the 2-1 lead at the death of the match.

In years past, the US Open Cup was the Union’s only realistic shot at getting a trophy. But this year is different. With the team in first place, the notion of winning an MLS Cup is not the pipe dream it has always been in the past. From the perspective of league competition, losing this match wasn’t a bad thing, as the boys in blue won’t have another US Open Cup match next week, and they can use MLS’s Gold Cup break to rest some weary legs.

Final thoughts:

  • Fabinho was all over the final third. And he wasn’t sticking to the wing either. Maybe he was running around too much.
  • Freese played well for most of the match, getting five saves. But he blew it on the corner kick that provided DCU’s equalizer.
  • Collin was solid at centerback. He provides excellent depth for the Union at that position.
  • If you’re gonna lose, this was a good time to do it. They weren’t in the midst of a deep run in the US Open Cup tournament, and it’s better to have this happen in a non-league match.

The Union will now rest for the next two weeks before traveling to New England to take on the Revs on Wednesday June 26.

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