On a soggy final day of September, the Philadelphia Union looked poised to raise their first trophy in their six year existence.
But in the end, the rain turned to tears.
In excruciatingly painful fashion, the Union fell to Sporting Kansas 1-1 (7-6) in the eighth round of penalties to lose in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final for the second consecutive year. Similar to last year against Seattle, the Union went into halftime up 1-0 and had chances to win after conceding an equalizer. Again in extra time, only this time, it went to penalties.
But, unfortunately, the cut dug even deeper.
"On another night it could go our way, but for some reason it just doesn’t," head coach Jim Curtin said. "That’s a difficult thing in this building. Our fans were amazing. They stuck with us, like they always do. The atmosphere was all we could have asked for."
In a tie game, Curtin spent his final substitute on goalkeeper John McCarthy, the Philadelphia native who carried the Union through this year’s Open Cup run with several moments of brilliance including two wins in penalties. He was replaced by Andre Blake for the start, and while Blake was nearly flawless on the night, Curtin went to his PK stopper.
McCarthy got one, an immediate answer on Krisztian Nemeth after Maurice Edu was stopped. But he couldn’t get another, coming agonizingly close on several perfectly placed attempts.
"Credit to KC. They stepped up in big spots and hit some pretty unreal penalty kicks from guys that I didn’t expect," Curtin said. "That’s just the way it goes."
Sebastien Le Toux got the team rolling in the 23rd minute after an absolutely brilliant pass from Vincent Nogueira played him through. Fabinho brilliantly popped a ball over the head of Graham Zusi before playing on to Nogueira. Right in front of the midfield line, Nogueira dropped a ball in for a cutting Le Toux, who one-touched past Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia.
In the 37th minute, on a nearly identical play, Nogueira slipped Le Toux in again, only to be stopped by Melia. Just 15 seconds later, Tranquillo Barnetta then tried to curl one in from the corner of the 18, only to be denied again by Melia.
"First half I thought we pushed the tempo," Curtin said. "We’re sitting on the sidelines saying we need a second goal, we need a second goal. I thought KC was a little vulnerable in that first half. Especially once we scored, it kind of opened up and we had some chances as they pushed."
Nemeth scored in the 65th minute and the two teams swapped a few opportunities over the final 20 minutes before going to extra time. There, the 30 minutes went by fairly inauspicious.
For the Union, Le Toux and Nogueira scored before Edu was stopped in the third round. Barnetta, Conor Casey, Michael Lahoud and Raymon Gaddis scored before Andrew Wenger was denied in the eighth. Jordi Quintilla scored the game-winner for Sporting.
The Union outshot SKC 14-13 and had an 8-6 advantage on target, forcing Melia to make a game-high 7 saves. Sporting won possession 53-47.
The Union return to action against Toronto FC on Saturday, Oct. 3 at BMO Field. Their final game of the season at PPL Park will be Sunday, Oct. 25.