HOUSTON – Third time’s the collapse.
“It kind of got away from us,” Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin conceded after the club’s 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, their third trip to the U.S. Open Cup final – and third defeat – in five seasons. “Houston deserved the result and we obviously let ourselves down.”
Despite the Union’s playoff push, Curtin had pledged to “fully empty our tank and push for this trophy” and said afterwards that his players did just that. But this was a mechanical breakdown, smoke billowing from the engine, warning lights blinking furiously on the dash.
The Union appeared to lose concentration after Fafa Picault’s early headed tally was ruled out for offside, conceding a soft goal moments later, and they never recovered.
“We got punished on defensive errors,” said midfielder and captain Alejandro Bedoya. “It’s disappointing. I’m frustrated; it sucks.”
“This is heartbreaking,” he said. “I feel sick. But at the same time I have to be a leader about it. It hurts.”
It was all the more surprising since everything was trending in the right direction for Philadelphia as they arrived in rainy southeast Texas.
The Union beat the Dynamo 3-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 25 and had won seven of their past 10 games in all competitions; Houston notched only two victories in the same span.
Curtin’s side took three points from the Seattle Sounders on the road a week earlier, then stunned another in-form Western Conference team, Sporting Kansas City, on Sunday, all but guaranteeing a third postseason foray in the Union’s ninth season.
“Obviously we’re juggling a league schedule and a cup run,” said Curtin, who played a reserve-heavy lineup against Kansas City and said that his players were fresh for the final as a result.
But they traveled for the first time in this year’s tournament after four home wins and Houston looked assured on their own patch. So is there a case for a two-legged final or a neutral venue?
“There is a benefit there, certainly, to play a final in your home stadium; it’s more the American way,” Curtin said. “Could they put it in Las Vegas or come up with some neutral site that’s good for people to get to? Obviously it’d cost a lot of money to do that, but that’s an interesting point.”
However the Union had visualized this final, their dreams did not feature the orange-clad portion of the crowd gleefully bellowing “Ole! Ole!” after 35 minutes amid a long series of sideways midfield passes that left the visitors chasing shadows.
Philly conceded only one goal en route to Wednesday’s showcase, then gave up two in the first 25 minutes.
When a Union player did find the net in the second period, it was into his own goal to give Houston a 3-0 lead they preserved without great drama. And who was the culprit? A symbol of the club’s Homegrown youth movement, defender Auston Trusty (pictured at top).
It was cruel on the 20-year-old, who stood for several seconds afterwards, hands on head, eyes closed, enduring a moment of pure misery amid an outstanding season.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team. As hard as it is to lose a final, it doesn’t dismiss the entire work that’s been done this season,” Curtin said. “It’s still a very good Open Cup run; it doesn’t end the way we want.”