While not much has changed since Saturday’s match against New York, tonight’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tilt at Red Bull Arena (8:00pm ET, Live Streaming details HERE) should have a distinctly different feel. Each club is approaching the game differently, and the strategies seem to be dictated from the top. Red Bulls Head Coach Hans Backe has admitted to the media that he plans to rest his starters to avoid over-working them. Union Manager Peter Nowak? Not so much. 

Displaying his ultra-competitiveness and the attitude he’s instilling in a young Union side, Nowak asked rhetorically, "Is there a trophy? Then we’ll play the best players.”

That’s all you need to know about Philadelphia’s approach to the match. New York’s appears to be decidedly different, however.

“I always put priority on cup games,” said Backe. “I’ve been on six cup finals losing five; I have won one, so now with the Juventus game coming in, if we win in the cup, we would probably play nine games from today until June 5, and I don’t think this squad is able to cope with that.”

After outplaying New York in terms of ball movement, possession and attacking creativity, only to lose on a second half PK, Philadelphia looks to be the favorite if both teams stick to their stated intention. 

It’s impossible to fully predict playing time though, especially when one team isn’t treating the showdown with the same significance as a League game, so let’s look at the path to an Open Cup championship and some things we learned about the Union from Saturday’s match. 

The Format

Tuesday night’s play-in match is the beginning of a long road should Philadelphia continue to win in U.S. Open Cup play. In fact, the Union would have to beat three MLS teams just to qualify for the tournament’s round of 16. lays out the qualifying bracket nicely HERE. Such is the reality for an expansion team, but you can only win one game at a time. The Union will look to take the first step in tonight’s elimination game. 

Philadelphia doesn’t quit, ever

Four games into the season and four times we’ve seen the Union bear down when they could’ve folded. The club’s mentality undoubtedly flows down from Nowak, but he’s not the only one in the organization who refuses to give up no matter the obstacles.

Going down two goals and a man in Seattle before the half, an expansion club on the road in their first ever game easily could’ve lost 4-0 or 5-0. Instead, they prevented Seattle from scoring and proved they’d never go down easy. 

In the club’s second game, a historic Home Opener in front of nearly 35,000 fans, the Union squandered a 2-0 lead. The momentum was clearly in D.C.’s favor after United’s second goal, but Philly didn’t send their fans home disappointed. Le Toux’s heroics reinforced that the Union will play to win until the final whistle has blown.

Against Toronto, Philadelphia went down a man in the first half yet again, with Dwayne De Rosario putting the Union down a goal shortly after Califf’s send-off. But what do you know, Nowak’s side didn’t sit back and hope to catch Toronto off-guard with a counter-attacking opportunity. No, Philadelphia continued to push forward, making the field look even-sided for much of the rest of the match and even equalizing just before the half.

And then there was Saturday’s match against tonight’s opponent, the Red Bulls. After Jeremy Hall connected with Salou Ibrahim’s head, leading to the go-ahead goal early in the second half, Philadelphia didn’t take long to strike back. The Bulls ended up with the result, but a theme was yet again validated. Winning or losing, the Union will come at you. 

Four out of four just isn’t a coincidence. Especially not if you’ve watched the four matches.

GK Chris Seitz will be just fine

Some were getting worried about Seitz after a couple of costly mistakes, but Nowak, Coach John Hackworth and Assistant Coach/Goalkeeper Coordinator Rob Vartughian knew better.

The 23-year-old was sharper than he’s been all season, coming up with a few big saves highlighted by the stoning of Juan Pablo Angel, one of MLS’ finest strikers. One strong performance won’t silence the critics though, and Seitz will be eager to continue building his own confidence and that of the Technical Staff and fans.

Le Toux and Moreno are getting along quite well on the pitch

The Union’s attacking combo has clicked through the first four matches, with Le Toux being on the receiving end of Moreno’s precise service. One has to think that the goal tallies (4 for Le Toux, 0 for Moreno) and shots (16 for Le Toux, 2 for Moreno) will even out, so don’t be surprised to see Le Toux looking for Moreno tonight. If the pairing receives the effective support from the midfield they've become accustomed to, they should continue to be dangerous. Once Moreno and the Union’s midfield begin beating opposing keepers (Le Toux and Harvey have accounted for all five goals this season), Philadelphia’s attack will be hard to stop. 

The Union want to get Shea Salinas on the field

Danny Califf’s suspension left an opening on the defensive backline, but few guessed that Salinas, a wing midfielder, would fill the void. There he was at left fullback against New York though, with Arrieta shifting to the center and Harvey moving to the right. While Salinas was very solid in a foreign position, don’t look for him to become a permanent fixture in defense with Califf returning. Nevertheless, the fact that he was almost forced onto the field is a vote of confidence from the Technical Staff. 

Even if Salinas can’t find a place in the starting XI with Roger Torres, Fred, Stefani Miglioranzi and Andrew Jacobson all playing well, he should regularly be one of the first players off the bench and play plenty of meaningful minutes. It’s clear that Nowak and Co. see Salinas as a difference maker and want to give him an opportunity to do so. 

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