Moments after falling 3-1 in extra time of the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, the Philadelphia Union painfully stood and watched as Seattle Sounders FC lifted another trophy, on the Union’s home field at PPL Park.
The exercise was as much about sportsmanship as it was about character building according to Union head coach Jim Curtin.
“I wanted them to know that feeling,” Curtin told ussoccer.com. “Everyone on the team – I made sure they stayed out there. That should be what motivates you to go out and get a result. Every good team that I played on that eventually won a trophy went through the tough moments of losing a final.”
As a defender with the Chicago Fire, Curtin won two U.S. Open Cup titles in 2003 and 2006. He also had to look on in disappointment as the Fire fell to the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2003 MLS Cup and Kansas City Wizards in the 2004 U.S. Open Cup final.
“It’s a difficult thing to go through,” Curtin continued, “but as we approach the competition this year, we talk about unfinished business. That moment last year, it should motivate our guys.”
The Union will need that motivation as they welcome USL league leaders Rochester Rhinos to PPL Park on Tuesday. The club was the last non-MLS side to lift the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 1999 and comes into the match sitting atop the 24-team USL with an 8-0-4 record (28 points).
They’ve carried their dominant league form into Open Cup play, defeating Greater Binghamton FC Thunder 1-0 in the Second Round, before an impressive display in Third Round play against fellow USL foe Harrisburg City Islanders. In that match, the Rhinos lost forward Steevan Dos Santos in the 38th minute and surrendered a 106th minute goal, before Tony Walls equalized two minutes later, and Asani Samuels bagged a brace to defeat the City Islanders 3-1 after extra time.
Rhino's goalkeeper Brandon Miller pulls down a cross in Third Round play of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup. (Photo credit: Harrisburg City Islanders)
“We have a competitive group,” said Rhinos head coach Bob Lilley. “Down a man at half time, I told the guys ‘We’re going to win this game. As the clock runs, they’re going to push guys forward. If we stay solid, we’re going to get our chances.’
“You get into overtime and anything can happen. I didn’t expect to score three goals in the second overtime, but when they scored we responded immediately. Guys had the mentality that they weren’t going to lose the game. Their resiliency showed and I think that’s what they’ve shown all year.”
That resiliency will be put to the test again on Tuesday. Unlike the Union, who sat idle in MLS play this weekend, Rochester hosted Louisville City FC Saturday night, about 72 hours before kickoff on Tuesday. In the short span, Lilley’s side will hope to build more upon the Rhinos’ rich history in the competition, while continuing their impressive form in league play.
“Before the Louisville game, we hadn’t spoken to our team about Philadelphia,” Lilley said. “There’s so much that has importance to our league. I do think that similar to a playoff setup, you’ve got to be able to maximize each outing and get the best on the day out of your team. You’re not always going to have every player healthy or every player available but when you get to that game, it’s important that every player maximizes his performance.”
While he didn’t put the Union in the minds of his players before Saturday’s league contest, knowing that Philadelphia is sitting idle this week, Lilley said he’d prepare his side to play their first team on Tuesday.
With a team that’s beginning to round into form after stumbles early in the MLS season, Union boss Jim Curtin confirmed he plans to put out a top lineup.
Philadelphia's Sebastian Le Toux holds off a challenge from Seattle defender Chad Marshall in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Final.
“We’re going to put out a strong team for sure,” said the Union boss. “Maybe I sprinkle in one or two young guys, but they’re young guys that have played for us already this year and contributed. I’m not going to be fielding a second team and not having a game on the weekend is a good advantage for us.
“The guys are confident right now, they look like the group I remembered from the good moments last year. We’ve gotten healthy at a good time, and everyone’s kind of pushing each other. We’re getting even more healthy, Fernando Aristeguieta is going to be back, Conor Casey, Michael LaHoud, Steven Vitoria are all coming back.”
Curtin also has the competition’s all-time leading scorer, Sebastien Le Toux, to threaten what may be a tired Rochester back line on Tuesday. Le Toux’s 15 modern era Open Cup goals have given the Frenchman plenty of appreciation for the competition.
“It’s a tournament that I’ve had some success in,” he told ussoccer.com “It was nice to play at the beginning in Seattle in USL, getting games against MLS teams, it was nice to try and show yourself to other teams. I scored some goals. We had some good runs in Seattle, twice to the semifinals in 2007 and 2008 and my third year with the MLS squad we won it.
Union head coach Jim Curtin (center) won the U.S. Open Cup as a player with the Chicago Fire in 2003.
“The goal record means a lot to me,” he continued. “I’m a forward and when you play you want to score as many goals as you can. I’ve scored goals with almost every team I’ve played for in the competition and that’s special. I hope to score more and add to the record.”
As the Union begin their quest for another deep tournament run on Tuesday, Curtin has no reservations about treating the tournament and the teams his side faces with respect.
“It’s a very strong team, very organized, don’t give up a lot of goals, they score a bunch and haven’t been beaten this year. We’re not going to take them lightly,” he said of the Rhinos.
“Teams can handle it however they want, but I handle it in the way that: it’s one of the two cups you can win in our country. If you don’t take it seriously, you’re full of it to be honest. It’s pro sports and any time there’s competition you want to win. That should be the mentality. It was ingrained in me in Chicago and I’ve carried it with me to Philadelphia. We’re going to take the cup seriously and hopefully we can make another deep run like we did last year.”
Ever wondered what a day in the life of a U.S. Women’s National Team player is like? We followed WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to get an inside look at a day inside WNT training camp, a day that included a weight session and on-field practice.
After a grabbing a quick coffee, the busy day starts early for Harris and the WNT, as they are headed to a weight lifting, the first of two trainings sessions that day.
“The bus ride is always total shenanigans with the people I sit around with. Usually that group is Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger. It’s just fun and good vibes heading into our workout.”
First stop of the day: weightlifting. The WNT usually spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and each player has a specialized workout sheet that is tailored to their needs.
“At lifting I usually spend time on my shoulders and continue to strengthen my back; things I need as goalkeeper. Every day I hit the ground, so I have to make sure my arms are strong. Shoulder strength and shoulder stability are key to make sure my arms are moving well and to prevent any injuries.”
As the team exits the gym, several fans await them by the bus and most players, including Harris, stop to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfies.
“It’s always just really cool to stop and have a chat with the younger generation after or before training sessions. They’re just awesome.”
“Our van leaves the hotel about 45 minutes before the field players whenever we go to the training. I always have a pre-training and pre-game routine of taping my fingers and hands. It’s a personal preference and to be honest, I’ve always done it. Being at training earlier helps us get some good stretching in, stay focused and it allows us to nail down techniques and work individually and collectively as a small group before we jump in with everyone else.”
For afternoon training, Harris, along with Alyssa Naeher and Jane Campbell, as well as goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel, all pile into a team van and head to training earlier than the field players to spend some time working on their technique and specific areas before the rest of the team arrives.
“Alyssa and I have very good communication and no one has a better view or can critique one another better than each other. If we see something we tell each other and help each other out.”
After training, the players all cool down, chat with each other, hydrate and reflect on the session they just completed.
“We tend to immediately grab our protein shakes. We talk about the day, what we saw on the field, what we can fix, what wasn’t good, what was good and we just overall critique the game in every way we can to become better.”
“Once we’re back in the hotel, it’s all about treatment. Like true professionals, we must take care of our bodies and be responsible to get the treatment we need. Our bodies take a beating from all the impact at training so we take care of it to do it all over again the day after.”