CHESTER, Pa. -- On another night, it could have been different for the Philadelphia Union.
On another night, maybe Sebastien Le Toux’s goal holds up as the winner and the franchise’s most decorated player gets to play the role of hero in the franchise’s biggest victory.
On another night, maybe Jim Curtin’s gutsy decision to put in John McCarthy for penalty kicks pays off and McCarthy wins his third shootout of a magical US Open Cup run.
On another night, maybe the Union are lifting the first trophy in franchise history instead of, once again, watching another team celebrate on their home field.
That was the general sentiment from Union head coach Jim Curtin, who was proud of his team’s performance after Philly’s loss to Sporting Kansas City in penalty kicks on Wednesday night at PPL Park.
But that didn’t make the team’s second straight gut-wrenching defeat in the US Open Cup final any easier to stomach. If anything, it made it harder.
“On another night, it could go our way, but for some reason it just doesn’t,” 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’ve asked for. All I can say is sorry for not delivering.”
While apologetic and dejected, Curtin had no regrets about bringing in McCarthy in the 120th minute to replace Andre Blake, who got the start and had played well to that point. McCarthy, after all, had started the previous four USOC games and won two shootouts, stopping three PKs vs. the Rochester Rhinos in their first Open Cup game and another two in a memorable win over the Red Bulls in the quarterfinals.
But McCarthy, who Curtin said is “special” on PKs, only stopped one of SKC’s eight attempts -- sometimes through no fault of his own.
“Credit to Kansas City,” Curtin said. “They stepped up in some big spots and hit some pretty unreal penalty kicks from guys I didn’t expect. This is the way it goes.”
If the Union felt unlucky by losing the shootout, they felt even worse that they couldn’t put SKC away in regulation when they had a chance. After scoring the game’s first goal thanks to a beautiful French connection from Vincent Nogueira and Le Toux, the Union had multiple chances to score a second.
But they never did, and allowed SKC to tie the game in the second half on a gorgeous goal of their own.
“I say this very professionally: we kicked their butts,” said midfielder Michael Lahoud, who buried the sixth PK for the Union. “On a different day, we embarrass Kansas City. But today was their day.”
And so it goes for the Union, who have still yet to win a trophy and are on the verge of being eliminated from the MLS playoffs for the fifth time in six years of existence.
And playing well in back-to-back US Open Cups will do little to ease the players' pain. Nor will it for Curtin.
“Listen, I love my players,” the Union coach said. “They fight for me. They’re great guys. I want them to have the feeling [of winning a championship]. There are guys in the locker room that have had that feeling, but to do it in the locker room together is special and it changes things forever with your group.
“Hearing [SKC players] cheer right now makes me want to throw up. This is why you play the game. We had the opportunity in a final in front of our home crowd and we came up a little short. I won’t hide from that. If anyone wants to pass blame, I’m right here. That falls on me because my players had a great night.”