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Union, Fire Focused on Fighting for Open Cup Final Berth

As the Draw to determine the hosting priority for the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Final concluded last Wednesday, the Chicago Fire were in the air, flying to Portland for an MLS match against the Timbers.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson had just awoken from a nap when the club’s Director of Communications Frank Stranzl beamed the good news throughout the plane: If the team won its Semifinal match at Philadelphia, they’d get to host their first U.S. Open Cup Final at Toyota Park since 2006.

“It was fantastic news,” Johnson told ussoccer.com. “Knowing the tradition this club has and the history of that tournament and the success we’ve had in the past few years, to have the ability to be back at home in front of our fans if we take care of business in Philly is great.”

In just his second year as a pro, Johnson witnessed first-hand what home field advantage in a championship match could mean as the Fire fell 2-0 to Seattle Sounders FC in front of 35,615 at Century Link Field in the 2011 U.S. Open Cup Final.

“You look at competitions around the world and you have a neutral site for the FA Cup, you have a neutral site for the Champions League, but it’s a big deal to be at home in front of your fans. They give you an extra boost, having the support we do and knowing what it would mean to win an Open Cup for the Fire, it would be second to none to win in front of our fans in Chicago.”

Few would know better about what lifting an Open Cup in Chicago would mean than Jim Curtin. The Philadelphia Union head coach did it twice as a defender with the Fire in 2003 and 2006 and says those experiences are the reason he’s made the competition a priority since taking the manager’s reins last June.

Jim Curtin

Jim Curtin (center) would become just the third person to win the U.S. Open Cup in the modern era as both a player and coach if he is able to guide the Union to this year's title.

It’s always a little strange going against your former team,” Curtin said. “You see the badge and know what it meant to you when you played, but at the same time you recognize where you are now. To have that be against a team I played with for a lot of years and have a lot of fond memories with in the Open Cup, winning it twice, it makes it a little special. I’ve tried to take the mentality and mindset that was instilled in me when I was in Chicago that the Open Cup is a major competition, it’s one of two trophies in this country that you can lift.”

With the Union and Fire sitting ninth and 10th respectively in the MLS Eastern Conference, the tournament has been a bright light for both clubs, as they’ve struggled to find consistency in league play. Though as Curtin says, “An elimination game has consequences, the most obvious is that the loser goes home.”

“Philly is an opponent that’s in a similar position to us, they’re hungry and at home,” Johnson added. “Either team can look at the season so far and see the Open Cup and know we’re both one win away from playing in a final.”

Both teams made roster additions during the window to help strengthen their sides for a push to the final. After chasing Didier Drogba, the Fire instead snared former Toronto FC striker Gilberto and also added Trinidad & Tobago international Daneil Cyrus to aid in central defense. Not to be outdone, the Union brought Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta and made a deal with Toronto FC for Warren Creavalle to bolster their midfield.

With league position being what it is and a spot in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup Final on the line, the match may have a feeling of finality for whoever comes up short. While the Chicago Fire have played all three of their matches at home and two against lower league opposition, the Union have had to scrap through two shootouts and two matches where they’ve played down a man for a majority of the game.

Curtin says the adversity his side has faced ever since falling to Seattle Sounders in last year’s Final, has built character and confidence ahead of Wednesday’s all-important match against the Fire.


Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin has heaped importance on winning the U.S. Open Cup and now has the club on the cusp of a second final in as many seasons.

“The run we made last year and to get so close and to lose in extra time was devastating for our guys,” he continued. “I made the guys stand out there and watch Seattle accept their medals to see what it’s like. It should be something they remember, which drives and motivates them for this year’s competition. Has it gone smoothly? Absolutely not. The group has been through a lot together and I think every team on a cup run has gone through a wild, crazy game – we’ve just been through three of them.

“We have that going for us. Every game in this competition is a battle. You have to be prepared to go 120 minutes and a shootout if need be. You’d like to be done in 90, but it isn’t always the case.”

And while the Fire will be guaranteed Final hosts if they can down Curtin’s side, their task won’t be easy with the team currently on a 19-match road winless streak across all competitions (0-15-4). Add that the Union have taken 17 of their 23 points in the league at PPL Park this season and they’ll feel good that they’re playing the match at home.

“The home field advantage is enormous in the Open Cup,” he said. “You never know in this game how many opportunities you’re going to have to play in a final. Being one game away is something we’re not going to take lightly. There will be urgency in the game, it’ll be on our home field, we’ll have 18,000 fans backing us which will create a very tough environment.”

As this team readies for what is no doubt their biggest match of the year, Johnson says the Fire won’t let the club’s recent away woes factor into their mentality.

“Everybody that steps on that field Wednesday is going to be in the mindset that they want to be in a cup final. Philly is a good team. They have some good pieces and we have to respect that. We have got to make sure we do the things necessary to come away with a win and put ourselves in the final.”

MNT Players in Club Action Across the Globe and the Airwaves this Weekend

With the USMNT’s March friendlies against Denmark (March 25, ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMás, UDN) and Switzerland (March 31, FOX Sports 1, UniMás, UDN) quickly approaching, time is running out for the players to convince the coaching staff they should be included for the matches that start the honing process for the all-important 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer. The staff will have plenty of opportunity to watch the player pool in action this weekend – and so will fans!

Check out all the MNT players in action with their clubs across the globe (All TV times ET):

FRIDAY
The spotlight is on the kickoff of the 20th season of Major League Soccer when the 2014 defending champion LA Galaxy hosts the Chicago Fire. World Cup vet Omar Gonzalez stands at one end with MNT neophyte Gyassi Zardes as the pair stare down Fire ‘keeper Sean Johnson at the other. (10 p.m., UniMas)

SATURDAY
The FA Cup quarterfinals kick off with a trip to famed Wembley Stadium on offer in one of the oldest and most prestigious cup competitions in the world. Brad Guzan and Aston Villa host West Bromwich Albion in the first leg (12:30 p.m., FOX Soccer Plus). In another final eight matchup, Reading midfielder Danny Williams continues his resurgence as the Royals head to League One side Bradford City (7:45 a.m., FS1). In the only Premier League match of the weekend, DeAndre Yedlin’s Spurs travel to QPR with a huge opportunity to pick up points in the race to reach European competition next season (10 a.m., NBCSN).

In Germany, Fabian Johnson is fresh off scoring his first goal of the campaign and Borussia Moenchengladbach travel to Mainz looking to keep their hold on third place in the Bundesliga table (12:30 p.m., GolTV).

South of the border, Club Tijuana look to maintain their lead at the top of the Liga MX Torneo Clausura after going 6-1-1 in the first eight matches. Joe Corona hopes to continue to earn minutes after recovering from injury, while Greg Garza will be kept out as a precaution after a minor hip injury on the weekend. Meantime, defender Michael Orozco has started all eight games for Puebla and has helped his side to fourth place as they travel to Chiapas (10 p.m., UDN).

MLS has a host of matches available on DIRECT KICK/MLS LIVE, led by the debut of Jozy Altidore alongside MNT compatriot Michael Bradley at Toronto FC when they square off against cross-coast Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps (6 p.m.). Check local listings for the full MLS schedule.

SUNDAY
Last things first – the U.S. Under-17 MNT has a chance to book their ticket to the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Currently sporting a 3-0-0 record at the top of Group A in CONCACAF Qualifying, a win against host Honduras would guarantee advancement to this fall’s tournament in Chile (FOX Soccer Plus, 10 p.m.).

The big draw will be the debut of the newest additions to MLS, with 60,000 plus packing the Citrus Bowl to watch Orlando City FC hosts NYCFC. Brek Shea is hoping for a jumpstart to his career wearing the purple of the Lions, while Mix Diskerud kicks off his domestic professional career with the Big Apple’s newest MLS entrant NYCFC (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, 5 p.m.). Matt Besler will marshal the backline and Graham Zusi appears to be ready to go when Sporting Kansas City hosts the new look New York Red Bulls (FS1, 7 p.m.), while MLS Cup finalists New England Revolution will be without their MNT contingent in Seattle as Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen are still sidelined for the opener against U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, MNT defender Brad Evans and Sounders FC (FS1, FOX Deportes, 9:30 p.m.). 

WHAT ELSE TO CHECK OUT …
Alejandro Bedoya returns from the infirmary to join his Nantes teammates when they meet Stade de Reims, who hover three points above the relegation zone … Jonathan Spector’s Birmingham City side have surpassed their point total from last season, and hope to climb into the top half of the table against Midlands rival Derby …  It could be young versus younger in Holland when Aron Johannsson and AZ Alkmaar travel to face Rubio Rubin and FC Utrecht on Sunday … Finally, Eintracht Frankfurt’s starting right back Timmy Chandler gets an early look at the RheinEnergieSTADION in Cologne, which will host USA-Germany on June 5. 

Photo Gallery: MNT's 2015 January Camp Retrospective

A retrospective look back through the photos of the MNT's month-long January Camp that began when head coach Jurgen Klinsmann summoned 23 players to U.S. Soccer's National Training Center in Carson, California, on Jan. 12. After a few departures and replacements the squad headed to Chile for its opening international friendly of 2015 before returning home to play Panama at StubHub Center. Along the way, the squad veterans were tasked with integrating a group of younger players who are learning what it means to compete at the full international level, while also preparing for the task of reassembling as the U-23 MNT throughout the year until qualifying begins for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Photo Gallery: MNT Cruises to Win against Panama

Photos from the MNT's 2-0 win against Panama at StubHub Center in Carson, California, to close out its first training camp of 2015. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey notched the goals for the USA, while Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Ibarra both made their first career starts. 

The MNT next heads to Europe in March for a pair of games against Denmark on March 25 and Switzerland on March 31.

MNT Earns First Win of 2015, Shuts Out Panama 2-0 at StubHub Center

CARSON, California (Feb. 8, 2015) – Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey scored first-half goals and the U.S. Men’s National Team defeated Panama 2-0 in the USA’s 2015 home opener in front of 20,271 spectators at StubHub Center. 

Dempsey joins Landon Donovan as the only MNT players to score 40 international goals. Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson split time in net for the clean sheet. 

It was the MNT’s first victory of the year, as well as the first win since a 1-0 decision against the Czech Republic on Sept. 3, 2014, in Prague. 

Perry Kitchen and Matt Hedges made their MNT debuts as second-half subs, and 10 players have now earned their first caps under Jurgen Klinsmann in the seven matches following the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

Miguel Ibarra and Gyasi Zardes each earned their first starts. Zardes assisted the Dempsey goal. 

The USA had other goal scoring chances throughout the match to add to its lead. The best second-half opportunity came in the 60th minute when Bradley’s free kick found an unmarked Jermaine Jones in the middle of the box. Jones whipped a header toward the goal, but directly to Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. 

Five of the USA’s six shots were placed on goal, while two of Panama’s five shots were put on frame. 

Goal Scoring Rundown:
USA – Michael Bradley, 27th minute: Just four minutes after a corner kick threatened the Panama net, Bradley delivered another one that found its way into the net. Bradley drove the corner from the left side toward the far right of the goal frame. Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo leapt to try and get a glove on it, but instead the ball went directly into the far right side of the frame, where Jozy Altidore also was close by. USA 1, PAN 0 (SEE GOAL) 

USA – Clint Dempsey (Gyasi Zardes), 37th minute: Zardes did the setup work, intercepting Panama’s Luis Ovalle in midfield and dribbling centrally before sending a well-placed through ball that split two Panama defenders. Dempsey timed his run perfectly, took a touch and a leap to elude Jaime Penedo and shot right-footed before Harold Cummings could converge. USA 2, PAN 0 (SEE GOAL) 

Key Saves and Defensive Stops:
USA – Nick Rimando, 14th minute: Panama threatened with a cross from the right side to the left of the box, and without a USA defender in the vicinity of Panama midfielder Eric Davis, Rimando was forced to rush off of his line and block the shot. 

PAN – Anibal Godoy, 23rd minute: Michael Bradley took the corner kick from the left side, a bending ball into the six-yard box that likely was headed for goal. Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo had a difficult time getting to the ball, but Godoy headed it out of harm’s way at the near post. 

Milestone Watch:

  • Michael Bradley scored his 13th-career goal. He is now tied for 13th on the all-time MNT goal scoring list with Marcelo Balboa and Hugo Perez. Next up on the list is 12th-place Carlos Bocanegra, who scored 14 goals from 2001-12.
  • Clint Dempsey joins Landon Donovan as the only U.S. MNT players to score 40 international goals. Donovan scored 57 times in 157 games and Dempsey has 40 goals in 112 matches.
  • Dempsey is now tied for sixth all-time in career appearances with Claudio Reyna, who earned 112 caps from 1994-2006. 

Next on the Schedule:
The U.S. MNT faces Denmark at 3 p.m. ET on March 25 in Arhus.
Broadcast information: ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas, Univision Deportes Network
Social: Twitter (@ussoccer; @ussoccer_esp); Facebook; Instagram

Additional Notes:

  • Before the match, a moment of remembrance was held for former 1950 FIFA World Cup goalkeeper Frank Borghi, who passed away last week. The National Soccer Hall of Famer manned the net in the USA’s famous 1-0 victory against England in Brazil.
  • The USA is now 12-1-2 all-time against Panama and has won the past six meetings.
  • Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup included Nick Rimando returning to goal and a defensive back four with Brek Shea on the left, DeAndre Yedlin on the right and Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler at center back. Jones earned his 50th-career cap.
  • In the midfield of the USA’s 4-2-3-1, Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley played in the holding role, with Miguel Ibarra, captain Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes above them, left to right. Ibarra and Zardes each earned their first MNT starts in just their second appearances. It was a familiar setting for Zardes who plies his professional trade with Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy at StubHub Center.
  • Striker Jozy Altidore played up front.
  • Goalkeeper Sean Johnson replaced Rimando to open the second half. It was Johnson’s first appearance since a 1-0 shutout victory against Costa Rica on July 16, 2013, at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
  • Also to open the second half, Chris Wondolowski entered for Altidore who was held out for the remainder of the game for precautionary reasons (right hamstring soreness).
  • Two players made their MNT debuts in the 72nd minute. Perry Kitchen replaced Diskerud and Matt Hedges replaced Yedlin, who had to leave the match with a right knee sprain in the 68th minute
  • Lee Nguyen took the place of Ibarra in the 79th minute.
  • Luis Gil joined the action in the 81st minute for Dempsey. 

- U.S. Men’s National Team Match Report - 

Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Panama
Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: StubHub Center; Carson, California
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
Attendance: 20,271
Weather: 72 degrees, partly cloudy 

Scoring Summary:   1          2          F
USA                            2          0          2
PAN                            0          0          0 

USA – Michael Bradley                                  27th minute
USA – Clint Dempsey (Gyasi Zardes)           37 

Lineups:
USA: 1-Nick Rimando (12-Sean Johnson, 46); 2-DeAndre Yedlin (3-Matt Hedges, 72), 13-Jermaine Jones, 5-Matt Besler, 11-Brek Shea; 4-Michael Bradley, 10-Mix Diskerud (15-Perry Kitchen, 72); 20-Gyasi Zardes, 8-Clint Dempsey (capt.) (14-Luis Gil, 81), 19-Miguel Ibarra (7-Lee Nguyen, 79); 17-Jozy Altidore (18-Chris Wondolowski, 46)
Subs Not Used: 6-Wil Trapp, 16-Shane O'Neill, 21-Dillon Serna
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann 

PAN: 1-Jaime Penedo (capt.); 2-Leonel Parris, 5-Fidel Escobar (23-Chin Hormechea, 46), 3-Harold Cummings, 17-Luis Ovalle (11-Hécgar Murillo, 46); 8-Marcos Sánchez (16-Yairo Glaize Yau, 46), 13-Alfredo Stephens (22-Ismael Díaz, 55), 20-Aníbal Godoy, 15-Éric Davis; 7-Blas Pérez (21-Ricardo Buitrago, 56), 9-Rolando Blackburn (4-Luis Pereira, 63)
Subs Not Used: 6-Michael Amir Murillo, 10-Gabriel Torres, 12-José Calderón, 19-Jhamal Rodríguez
Head Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez 

Stats Summary: USA / PAN
Shots: 6 / 5
Shots on Goal: 5 / 2
Saves: 2 / 3
Corner Kicks: 3 / 5
Fouls: 23 / 15
Offside: 0 / 3 

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Michael Bradley (caution)       38th minute
PAN – Luis Ovalle (caution)               40
PAN – Anibal Godoy (caution)           59
USA – Chris Wondolowski (caution)  65

Officials:
Referee: Henry Bejarano (CRC)                                          
Assistant Referee 1: Warner Castro (CRC)                                      
Assistant Referee 2: Christian Ramirez (HON)                                            
Fourth Official: Oscar Moncada (HON) 

Budweiser Man of the Match: Michael Bradley

Possessing size and range, Sean Johnson has already shown promise in his young professional career. Unfazed after being thrust into the starting role in his rookie year with the Chicago Fire, he demonstrated the poise and calm which are the trademarks of a good goalkeeper. Having represented the United States at the U-20 level, he is looking to break into the ranks of the full team.

  • A member of the U-20 Men's National Team that competed at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in 2009
  • Installed as the Chicago Fire starter halfway through the year, he went on to play in 13 matches for the club
Under-20s: Part of the U-20 roster for the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship tournament qualifying in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 … Made one appearance for the U-20 MNT in a 2-0 win over Haiti on Dec. 20, 2008 … First Appearance: None First Goal: None
2010: Played 13 matches, earning three shutouts and a 1.31 GAA in his rookie season…Made his first league appearance and earned his first career win in 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Aug. 1 and won the starting job soon after … 2009: Played six matches for FC Atlanta Blackhawks of the USL Premier Development League, going 4-0-2 with a 2.00 goals against average.
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