Sapong vs. NE

Union look for fourth trip to USOC semifinals in last five years against New England on Wednesday

Throughout Jim Curtin’s two-year tenure, the head coach has seen his fair share of triumphs and heartbreaks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup alone. Fact is, in the 12 knockout-competition matches he’s been at the helm for, practically all of them have been of the heart-palpitating variety, unintentionally taking years off all of our lives.

Or they’ve just been downright different.

In that group of 12 games, the only game that wasn’t decided by either one goal or beyond regulation time was the 2014 quarterfinal, where the Union defeated – yes, you guessed it – New England Revolution. But that game will be remembered for a wild dust storm that rolled through Talen Energy Stadium that was soon accompanied by torrential rain, thunder and lightning, leading to an hour-long delay during the second half. The Union ultimately won 2-0 and eventually reached the final.

Now the quarterfinal rematch two years later will head to New England on Wednesday, albeit at Harvard’s Jordan Field.

“It’s good that it’s at a little bit of a neutral environment at Harvard,” Curtin said. “Not a field that they’re used to and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”

There won’t be a whole lot of similarities between either team from that match two years ago. Or to an extent even the last match these two teams played on March 20. The Revs traded for Kei Kamara on May 12 and the target forward has seemingly started to figure out his role in Foxborough, scoring four goals in his last five games, including one in the Round of 16 against New York Cosmos on June 29.

For Curtin and the Union, they’re well aware of the threat New England poses offensively, but they’re brimming with confidence as the club continues to fight back occasional early deficits.

“New England has a lot of talented players – good midfield and obviously Kei is a handful,” Curtin said. “Again, our team is very fit. We’ve worked very hard on fitness and I think it showed against Red Bull [Sunday] that we were able to continue to push and we were strong until the final whistle.”

That fitness will need to come in handy once again this week. The Union left Philadelphia on Tuesday and won’t return until Sunday morning with a stop in Montreal in between. They’re currently in a stretch of five games in 15 days, which was also just one week removed from a stretch of six games in 18 days that began after the Copa America break. It’s been an extremely busy stretch that will finally let up once the All-Star break rolls around next week.

As for New England, they won a pair of tight Open Cup games to get this far as well. They defeated Carolina Railhawks in the Fourth Round, 1-0, thanks to a 100th minute goal from little-used reserve Zachary Herivaux. Then, they came from behind in the second half to defeat NY Cosmos, 3-2, in the Round of 16.

While the Union are healthy at the moment, New England figures to be without Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo. Davies hasn’t played since April 27, while Agudelo has been out since late June. The Revs haven’t missed too much of a beat with their offensive depth, but are also in the midst of a loaded schedule.

The winner will move on to the semifinals with a draw scheduled to start Thursday morning at 11 a.m. on U.S. Soccer’s YouTube channel. If the Union were to advance Wednesday, it would mark the fourth trip to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in the last five years.

“We’re already into the quarterfinals now of an Open Cup where we’re looking to raise our first trophy,” Curtin said. “It will be a good game. But I think we have the ability to survive and advance in this competition – something we’ve been good at.”

What do you think is the key to success vs. New England on Wednesday. Leave your comment below.

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