The Union joined the Philadelphia Sports scene in 2010, past the golden era of Philadelphia sports. The Phillies have been in decline since their 2008 World Series win, the Eagles compete year after year and then lose in the first round of the playoffs, the Flyers can’t seem to find the winning strategy, and who knows what Sam Hinkie is doing with the Sixers.
The Philadelphia sports fans are desperate for another trophy and for the 3rd time in 4 years, the Union are in a place to do just that. This Wednesday at 7:30 EST, the Union play the Chicago Fire for a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final. After last year’s heartbreaking loss to Clint Dempsey and the Seattle Sounders at PPL Park, the Union need to win the Open Cup, not just for the team but for the fans.
For those who don’t know, the Union were created because of the passion of Philadelphia and the Sons of Ben. Major League Soccer had never put a team in Philadelphia nor intended to until the Sons of Ben, thousands strong demanded a team. Now those same supporters lead the stadium week in and week out from the River End. The passion from Philadelphia sports fans is unrivaled and deserves to be rewarded.
The Union players understand how much winning the U.S. Open Cup means and have fought tooth and nail the last two years in tournament play. In the last two years combined, the Union have gone to extra time five times, survived three penalty kick shootouts and three red cards. This team never gives up when it comes to the Open Cup. The players have inspired the fans evidenced by the atmosphere at the final last year vs. Seattle. The passionate and excitement normally seen in the River End was felt throughout the stadium as even the most casual Union fans rose to their fight to cheer as one of the team. The feeling was electric and even though the Union lost, many fans were converted to diehards on that day. That same atmosphere can arise again this September if the Union win against Chicago and if Sporting Kansas City defeats Real Salt Lake.
But why the U.S. Open Cup? Why not the MLS Cup? For a multitude of reasons, the Union have only made the playoffs oncein six years, back in 2011. For a win starved fan base, that’s not good enough but the Union have found another way to find success. The U.S. Open Cup is one of the world’s oldest soccer tournaments. While having no direct impact on the league, it still carries weight as a major tournament and is a major championship, perhaps even more so than the MLS Cup. In the Open cup, amateur Sunday league teams all the way up to MLS teams compete. 91 teams competed in this year’s tournament, a record so the champion truly can be called the best team in American club soccer. You can argue that some MLS teams don’t take the tournament seriously and sometimes lose silly games to lower divisions. While this is true, it in fact hurts these teams as winning the Open Cup reaps many benefits.
The U.S. Open Cup Winner is one of five major league soccer teams that compete in the CONCACAF Champions league. The others are the MLS Cup Champion, the 2 conference winners (if they aren’t the cup champions), and the Canadian Championship (Canada’s Open Cup). Entrance to the Champions league can do wonders for the club. First, you get the reputation of being a winner. Second, you have to play more games the following season but get paid more in ticket sales, TV deals, and other rewards to use to buy players to improve the team. Third, you have the chance to go up head to head with the best teams in North America and MLS teams are inching closer and closer to its first Champions league crown and a spot in the Club World Cup.
Over the past couple years, teams that have won the Open Cup or made runs in the Champions leagues have translated their success to MLS. In 2012, Sporting Kansas City had not won an MLS Cup since 2000 and had not played in an MLS Cup Final since 2004, but they went on a run in the Open Cup, won it and then became one of the best teams in the league, winning the MLS cup the following year in 2013. D.C. United, in 2013, set a league record with fewest wins in a season with three but they found a way to win the U.S. Open Cup. In 2014, they won the Eastern Conference and look to repeat in 2015.The Seattle Sounders, a third division side in 2008, won the Open Cup three straight times from 2009 to 2011 and now are a league powerhouse. The Montreal Impact, typically bottom dwellers in a weak Eastern Conference, made an inspiring run to the Concacaf Champions league final this spring now currently sit comfortably in playoff position with games in hand on those around them.
The U.S. Open Cup and the Champions league experience that follows has done wonders for other teams in the league. Union fans rightfully demand more from this team and that can be accomplished through the Open Cup.
A win on Wednesday and a win in September will go a long way for this city, its fans, and for the team who all so desperately need a title victory. So fill up that stadium Union fans and let’s extinguish the Fire!