CHESTER, Pa. – Same tournament. Same place. Same teams. Only this time, the Philadelphia Union are planning on a different result.
With memories of last season’s wild US Open Cup loss to D.C. United still fresh in their minds, the Union return to the scene of the crime to battle D.C. in a fourth-round USOC game tonight at the Maryland SoccerPlex (7:30 pm ET, live commentary on MLSsoccer.com).
In last year’s matchup, Philly went down a man, tied the game at 2-2 in the final minutes of overtime and then lost, 4-2, in penalty kicks – which Union manager Peter Nowak said is equivalent to a “lottery.”
“The taste we have from last year is we can compete with them,” Nowak said. “We played a good game and everyone saw it. For us, it’s important to have a good performance and make sure we advance to the next round.”
The Union are indeed taking the US Open Cup very seriously, in the hopes that a deep run could not only lead to the franchise’s first championship of any kind but also perhaps reinvigorate them for league play.
Currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, Philly (2-7-2) advanced to the fourth round of this year’s USOC by dismantling the Rochester Rhinos last week – on a night when many other MLS teams lost to lower-division clubs.
“We treat all these games with respect,” Nowak said. “I’ve been preaching for years that for me, everything starts in training and whether you compete in small games or big games, it won’t matter in the end. You’ve got to be prepared and not take this thing as lightly as other teams did because you can find yourself in a bad spot and actually be eliminated.”
Interestingly enough, the Union will play first-place D.C. again on June 16 in league play, meaning the rivalry between the two clubs will be amped up over the next 11 days. And thankfully for the Union, former D.C. United wunderkind Freddy Adu will be available for both games.
Adu originally thought he’d have to miss the U.S. Open Cup game because he had Lasik eye surgery scheduled, but Nowak said he and his doctors decided to postpone the procedure until after the season. Now, the playmaking midfielder is ready to show his old club what his new club can do.
“We’re obviously excited we made it through to the next round and we’re going to play a very good D.C. team,” Adu said following last week’s win over Rochester. “We’ve got the players to really impose our will in games if we come ready to play. Our thing is we have to be consistent. But now I think we know there’s a sense of urgency. Now we know where we want to be.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.