Fans of the 105-year-old Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup live by its magic moments. And the Semifinal Round of the 2018 competition tossed up a good few of those on August 8. Join ussoccer.com for a look back at eight moments of note from those two games, in which “3” became the Philadelphia Union’s favorite number, lively Latif Blessing and LAFC suffered the cruelty of a shootout for the first time and Houston Dynamo set yet another home date – this time in their first-ever Open Cup Final.
- READ MORE: Philly Union & Houston Dynamo Reach #USOC2018 Final
- READ/WATCH: Q&A/EXCLU VIDEO - DaMarcus Beasley: Soccer's Not a Job Yet
- READ/WATCH: Philly Union Haunted & Motivated by Open Cup Ghosts Past
Home Sweet Home
Like Dorothy said, triggering her return from the Technicolor dreamscapes of Oz, there’s no place like home. It’s especially true in the 2018 Open Cup. Houston Dynamo have played (and won) all four of their games at BBVA Compass Stadium. They now face an Open Cup Final – a first in the club’s history – to cap a run in which they haven’t had to board a bus or a plane, haven’t had to sleep in a strange bed and could eat cereal from their favorite bowl on matchday mornings before driving to the stadium in their own cars. The Dynamo’s opponent on Sept. 26, Philadelphia Union, also benefited from home cooking, playing all of their games so far at Talen Energy Stadium on the banks of the mighty Delaware. Theirs is a more complicated relationship with home, and they might be happy to be heading away for the Final, having lost two straight (in 2014 and 2015) in front of their own fans under the halo of the Commodore Barry Bridge. “You need a few home games in a good Cup run,” said Jim Curtin, Union coach since 2014 and a two-time winner of the Open Cup as a player (once at home and once away). “But you don’t have to be at home to win a final…”
(Cory Burke soaks it in at Talen Energy Stadium, where the Union played (and won) all of their Cup games this year)
Say it Ain’t so, Latif
Of all the players to suffer the agony of missing a crucial penalty in LAFC’s Semifinal shootout loss in Houston, it shouldn’t have been Latif Blessing. Anyone but him. The tiny attacker from Ghana, still 21, is full of life and always smiling. He scored an unlikely header in last year’s Open Cup Final with Sporting Kansas City, and his lively dance routine with the trophy – nearly as tall as he is – was one of the highlights of the 2017 Final celebrations. The first thing he did after signing for LAFC this year was promise the fans in SoCal an Open Cup crown. He was as good as his word to the bitter end, with lively performances and a pair of goals en route to the final four. An avowed advocate of the Open Cup and its glories, who better than Blessing himself to take the crucial eighth penalty? He telegraphed his spot-kick and a rangy, athletic ‘keeper like Joe Willis was always going to jump all over it. Little Latif fell to the pitch and stayed there, like something discarded, while the Dynamo pounded the ground around him in celebration.
Three’s a Charm for Philly
The number 3 has power. There’s a certain weight to it. The Holy Trinity, three sides to a triangle, three rings in a circus. There’s three wise men, three little pigs, blind mice, Musketeers, Amigos and Stooges. It’s a number that means something to the Philadelphia Union too. They scored three in their shutout win over Chicago in the Semifinal – their third win over the Fire this year. It was the win that put the Pennsylvania club into a third Open Cup Final in the space of five years (and it’s been three years since their last appearance in 2015…). Still haunted by a pair of losses in their previous Finals, the Union and their fans will be hoping it’s a matter of third-time lucky and that this magic number can lead them to an all-important first Open Cup crown and a first trophy for the club that was founded in 2010. Come to think of it, one’s a good number too and Philly’s only conceded a single solitary goal in their four games.
(Latif Blessing is consoled by his LAFC teammates after missing the crucial PK)
Two Games – Nine Goals
With a whopping nine scored in two Semifinal games, the penultimate round produced an average of four and a half goals per game, a full goal more than the approximate average of the competition so far and a half a goal more than the Quarterfinal round. We’re sorry to see LAFC go as their run-and-gun approach to their first Open Cup campaign had fans on the edge of their seats. They scored 11 goals in four games (conceding seven). Houston Dynamo, not to be outdone, matched the LA men goal-for-goal and scored one extra in the shootout. Philadelphia Union, after riding a third-minute winner in a tense Quarterfinal against Orlando City, sprang to life with a trio of second-half goals in the Semifinal courtesy of Cory Burke (2) and CJ Sapong. That leaves Chicago Fire as the lone Semifinalist not to find the back of the net as, for once, 2017 MLS top-scorer Nemanja Nikolic wasn’t wearing his shooting boots. Chicago’s lack of finishing aside, the nine-goal round puts paid to the theory that Semis are too often too-cautious affairs.
Memo to Remember
Last year, Memo Rodriguez was just another talented hopeful looking for a route out of the Rio Grande Valley Toros (USL) squad and into the Dynamo first team. But coach Wilmer Cabrera knew this local kid had something special. He kept him around, kept him hungry and began to give him minutes with the big boys in MLS play and the Cup in 2018. Rodriguez, still only 22, bagged two goals in the Open Cup Fourth Round against NTX Rayados and showed that he was up for the big occasion. “When opportunity opens, he’s ready,” said Cabrera, who mentored Memo from the Dynamo academy, through the Toros and all the way to the top of the heap. “And that’s the key.” Memo proved he was ready once again, scoring in the Semifinal just three minutes after entering the game as a substitute. With the backing of his coach, a nose for crucial goals and an appetite for the big day, there’s no telling how far young Memo can go.
(Mauro Manotas - Houston's all-time top-scorer in Cup play - is a goal behind Diego Rossi heading into the Final)
Old Philly Hero Looms Large
Sebastian Le Toux retired from professional soccer last year, but he still looms large in Philadelphia and the Open Cup. Talen Energy Stadium is adorned with his image, 20 feet tall, and his name is splashed across the top of the north stand – a distinction of honor reserved for this, the first player inducted into the club’s hall of fame. In eight Open Cups with the Seattle Sounders (where he won one) and the Union (where he didn’t) and others, the wily French striker/midfielder scored 16 goals. This ranks him as the top goal-getter in the so-called Modern Era (1995 to present) of the 105-year-old tournament. His affection for the City of Brotherly Love is as strong as Philadelphia’s for him. He makes his home there, married a woman from there and, at this point, Seba’s as Philly as scrapple. “I hope the fans stay behind them,” said the club icon, who played in the Union’s two losing Finals in 2014 and 2015. “I hope that this year they can go to the Final and win the trophy.”
Rossi on Top; Manotas one Back
While LAFC are out of the running, there’s still a chance for one of their own to take something home from the 2018 Open Cup. Uruguayan striker Diego Rossi, just 20, has five goals in the tournament, including a gritty hat-trick in the Semifinal loss to Houston Dynamo (he’s only the second player in the tournament’s long history to score a hat-trick and end up on the losing side). Even if it is an unhappy hat-trick, it tangles Rossi at the top of the scorer’s table beside David Ochoa of SoFla amateurs Miami United FC. That’s enough for a share of 2018’s top-scorer honors. But Dynamo ace Mauro Manotas might still have his say in the Final on September 26. The Colombian striker is just 22 years old and already, with seven goals, the club’s all-time top-scorer in Open Cup play. He’s currently on four, one behind Rossi and Ochoa, with a chance to add to his goal tally when the Dynamo host the Union in the Final. It would be unwise to bet against him.
(Sebastian Le Toux, the Open Cup (Modern Era) top-scorer, is all over Philly's stadium)
A Fond Farewell
Losing in a Semifinal is no easy thing to swallow. “There’s something about a semifinal - in a way, there’s more tension in the Semi than in the Final,” said Bob Bradley, coach of LAFC and a twice-Open Cup winner with Chicago Fire. He and his attack-minded squad are heading for home, and it’s hard not to wonder what a Final at their brand-new stadium in downtown LA might have looked like. Oh well, gentleman, there’s always next year. And Chicago, we won’t forget you. You remain giants of the Open Cup pantheon, with your four titles between 1998 and 2006. But it’s been twelve years since you’ve won a trophy (any trophy), so we’ll meet you back here in 2019 while you hunt an elusive fifth and that little piece of Open Cup history we know you crave.
CHICAGO (Aug. 9, 2018) — The U.S. Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel has conducted a hearing and reviewed evidence concerning alleged use of a racial epithet directed at LAFC player Adama Diomande by a Portland Timbers player during the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal match on July 18, 2018, in Los Angeles.
The Panel found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that a racial epithet was used but as a matter of principle, the Panel condemned all forms of racial abuse, stating the use of a racial epithet has no place on or off the soccer field.
“U.S. Soccer bylaws expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, among other protected characteristics, and the FIFA Code of Ethics provides in relevant part that players shall not ‘offend the dignity or integrity of a … person … through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions on account of race, skin colour, ethnicity.’”
As part of the review, the Panel heard from all players involved. It should be clearly noted that the accused player strongly denies using a racial epithet. The panel also reviewed the match official’s report, along with written statements and video evidence provided by the clubs. After reviewing all of the available information, the Panel found no other individual that was able to confirm they heard the alleged use of the racial epithet.
While in no way diminishing the serious allegation, the Panel also took into consideration that the alleged incident occurred while multiple speakers spoke at the same time in multiple languages during a tense situation, which could allow one individual to misunderstand another individual.
In their written decision, the U.S. Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel explained:
“…this is a case of a dispute over what was said between players on the playing field, amidst noise, confusion and multiple speakers speaking at once and in at least two languages. The match official did not hear the statement in question and did not issue a caution based on the incident, nor did any other player in the vicinity come forward to confirm they heard the alleged statement…Given the possibility that it is always possible to mishear or misunderstand another individual in a tense situation, the Panel concluded it does not have a basis to value the credibility of one player over another in this matter.”
CHICAGO (Aug. 8, 2018) – The Semifinals of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, produced a pair of goal-filled matches that were both defined by second-half fireworks as the Philadelphia Union dispatched the Chicago Fire 3-0 in the Eastern Semifinal and the Houston Dynamo outlasted Los Angeles FC in penalty kicks 7-6 after the teams finished 120 minutes tied at 3-3.
Philadelphia, now in a third Open Cup Final in the last five years, will meet the Dynamo, making their first appearance in an Open Cup Final, in the championship match on Sept. 26 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Kickoff and broadcast details will be announced at a later date. The 2018 Final will be the first since 2001 (LA Galaxy vs. New England) in which neither Finalist has previously won an Open Cup title.
Game (home team listed first)
Philadelphia Union (MLS) vs.Chicago Fire (MLS)
Talen Energy Stadium; Chester, Pa.
Houston Dynamo (MLS vs. Los Angeles FC (MLS)
3-3 (7-6 PKs)
BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8
Philadelphia Union (MLS) 3, Chicago Fire (MLS) 0
A stellar second half from the home side resulted in a three-goal outburst and a ticket to the 2018 U.S. Open Cup championship match for the Philadelphia Union who defeated four-time Open Cup champions Chicago Fire 3-0 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa. to reach a third Open Cup Final in the space of five years.
An open game in which both teams had their chances began with the Union mostly trying to hit Chicago on the counter-attack, but some wayward finishing and lack of clear-cut looks left the home side largely on the back foot as Chicago possessed the ball with purpose. The Fire crafted a handful of quality opportunities through the cunning of Bastian Schweinsteiger and flashy skill of Aleksandar Katai, but Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was alert and up to every test the Fire put to him. He had to be particularly strong to push a stinging Schweinsteiger drive over the crossbar to help the Union reach the half knotted 0-0 with the Fire.
In the second half, the game continued to produce chances for both teams, but it was Fire ‘keeper Richard Sanchez who had to pull out more of the heroics – one diving save in particular to deny Union captain Alejandro Bedoya in the 54th minute from point-blank range stood out as a potential game-changer. But five minutes later the breakthrough came for the hosts via Cory Burke who capped off a neatly worked give-and-go between Bedoya and Borek Dockal, that Bedoya then chipped over the Fire back line to a wide-open Burke. The hard-charging Burke doubled his side’s lead in the 77th minute, smashing home a brisk counter attack that started all the way in the back with Blake. And with five minutes remaining in the match, substitute C.J. Sapong put the finishing touches on the victory with a tap-in from inside the six-yard box after Fafa Picault carried the ball to the end line, drew out Sanchez and slotted a pass back right into the path of Sapong to cement the 3-0 win.
Houston Dynamo (MLS) 3, Los Angeles FC (MLS) 3 (7-6 PKs)
It was a back-and-forth goal storm at BBVA Compass Stadium where both the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles FC found scoring chances aplenty as well as more plot twists than a Hollywood thriller in an exhilarating penalty shootout win for the Texas side, 7-6, after both teams battled to a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes of end-to-end action.
LAFC wasted no time seizing the initial advantage. The speedy Diego Rossi opened the scoring six minutes into the contest, bagging the first of his three goals on the night with a fine finish of a Lee Nguyen through-ball. After absorbing the initial shock of going behind early, the Dynamo settled into their counter-attacking game plan and evened matters in the 12th minute through an Andrew Wenger header at the back post on an Adam Lundqvist corner kick. From there, the Dynamo were off to the races, breaking often with pace into the LAFC defensive third and forcing goalkeeper Tyler Miller into numerous saves and interventions. But in the 25th minute, Mauro Manotas – the Dynamo’s all-time top scorer in Open Cup play – put the Texans up 2-1, converting a slick through ball from Alberth Elis, who proved a strong and speedy thorn in LAFC’s side throughout the match.
Riding into the second half with the lead, young Houston substitute Memo Rodriguez looked to have put the game out of reach for the California club when he beat Miller at the near post to extend the Dynamo’s lead to 3-1 in the 75th minute. Staring down the end of their Open Cup dream, LA turned to Rossi, who still had enough gas in the tank to haul his side back into the match with an answer to Rodriguez’s goal in the 78th minute. Houston had squandered goal-scoring chances all evening and five minutes into the seven minutes of second-half stoppage time, they were made to pay when Rossi completed his hat trick with a deft header over Dynamo gloveman Joe Willis who had misjudged the depth of a cross, allowing Rossi and the visitors to fight on into overtime.While the extra period did produce some scintillating chances for both teams, neither could find a winning strike and after 30 minutes matters had to be settled from the penalty spot. Willis redeemed his mistake from the end of regulation, saving two penalty kicks to play the hero and send Houston to its first Open Cup Final in club history.
- READ MORE: Philly Union Seek to Slay Old Ghosts
- READ MORE: Big Moments from #USOC2018 Quarterfinals
- READ MORE: Union Stand on the Shoulders of Local Giants
- READ MORE: Latif Blessing - LAFC's Little Big Man
ussoccer.com: The year 2000 was a pretty long time ago. You won your first trophy as a pro with Chicago Fire in that’s year’s U.S. Open Cup. Do you remember it well?
DaMarcus Beasley: Oh yeah. When I look back on my days as a young player and a young pro, of course I remember wanting to win trophies. But it was mostly just about playing. I was having fun playing. So to win something like the Open Cup at a young age, it was great and it was fun and I got a sense of how important it was to everyone at the club. To be a part of it was something I won’t forget. Now I’m older. I know how much it takes to get there, to win any kind of championship, so when I look back it seems even more special.
(A young DaMarcus Beasley during his days with the Chicago Fire, where he won two Open Cups)
You repeated the trick in the 2003 Open Cup. Did it feel like you guys were building a kind of Open Cup dynasty in Chicago?
DM: I wouldn’t say that. But we had a team – players, coaching staff, everyone – that just had a winning mentality. League games, Open Cup games, it didn’t matter really. We just went out there to win. We tried to win at all costs. It filtered through the club from the president all the way down to the players. They expected you to win. So I wouldn’t say a dynasty, but we wanted to win and get to Finals and come out with something.
Your coach then, Bob Bradley, is a vocal advocate for the Open Cup. Did the Fire’s competitiveness and success in the tournament come directly from him?
DM: Yeah. He preached from day one that we wanted to win both trophies available: MLS Cup and the Open Cup. We didn’t see the Open Cup as a chance to take time off or relax. We used it to compete and to be better. To go get something. And that’s the same way we do it here in Houston. We put a lot of emphasis on putting out a good group to win the Open Cup. That’s the way any team that wants to win it has to do it.
There’s a lot of connections in the current Open Cup final four to those old Fire teams: Jim Curtin’s in charge in Philadelphia, Chicago’s back and Bob Bradley is coaching your next opponent LAFC. What’s it like coming up against these old friends and teammates on the other side of the touchline now?
DM: My competitive nature is always there. I’m going to be out there trying to win and trying to do what I can to help my team get the win. But it’s always nice coming up against old teammates and coaches because you can catch up and have a chat after the game. You can catch up with them and what’s going on in their lives. But it doesn’t change the competitiveness. I’m the same level of competitive against an under-13 team as I am in an Open Cup Semifinal.
(With over 100 caps, DaMarcus Beasley is the only USMNT player to appear in four World Cups)
Do you see any similarities to the way Bob Bradley has set up his new LAFC side to those Fire teams back in the day?
DM: A million per cent. Yes. You see it in the way they fight. The way they play. The way they move and share the ball. They’re always looking for the easy pass. He [Bradley] always wanted you to make soccer as easy as you could. I definitely see his touch in how they [LAFC] play. They spread you out and it’s tough to get around them if they’re having a good day. It’s tough to break them down. Bob likes teams that possess the ball, but teams that possess it with intent.
Are you comfortable in the role of senior player now, a veteran who the younger ones look up to? Do they come to you for advice or counsel?
DM: I’m easy to talk to. Everyone around here knows that. They can all come and see me because I’m just one of the guys. I’m just trying to help the team win and be successful and try to win championships. At the end of the day, that’s what we all remember. You remember the fun times in the locker room and all the different jokes and things, but to win something together, you can never forget that. We’re pushing to do that. Hopefully at the end of the season we can lift up not just one, but two trophies. On Semifinal days and in Finals, my experience as a senior player can help the team, so I try to use that.
There seems to be a good chemistry in this Dynamo team in the 2018 Open Cup. Would you say this is a strong Cup team with a chance of lifting a trophy?
DM: Yes. We set out goals at the beginning of the season and this is one of them. For us, winning the Open Cup is our goal. It’s not about getting to the Semifinals. It’s not about doing one better than last year. It’s about winning. That’s what this is about. And I think we have the group to win. Soccer is a game to be played – sure, some people might say LAFC is stronger than we are. Individually, they have very good players. But none of that means anything. You still have to play the game. And on any given day, anybody can beat anybody in this sport. It’s one game, the winner moves on, and there’s nothing to hold back. There’s no three points. No draws. We need to give it our all on Wednesday to win. We have to put everything on the line and take risks. That’s what soccer’s all about.
(Now 36, DaMarcus Beasley has no intention of hanging up his boots any time soon)
What’s the special sauce that makes a strong Cup team? Is it luck, mentality, momentum, playing at home? All of the above?
DM: It’s a little bit of all of that. For me, though, I think you make your own luck with the things you do on the field and how you respect the game. But good momentum, having guys that are fit, these are important. Having a strong camaraderie in the team is too. All of that goes together to make a good product on the field. I think we have that and hopefully we can put it all together and win something. At the end of the day, that’s all people will remember. We’ll remember we were champions. You hope the guys that haven’t felt that yet can experience it and hold it with them and use it as motivation in five or ten years and pass it on. They’ll know what it really takes to be a wining team. Because at the end of the year, with the preseason and all the hard work and all the nonsense that goes on, and the ups and downs, to end the season with a Cup is pretty special. I’ve done it quite a few times with different teams, but you never lose that feeling of winning. It stays with you.
A lot of your playing years were spent overseas, where you also won Cups. The Dutch Cup in 2005, where you scored in the last second of a Semifinal to see off Feyenoord and reach the Final with PSV. You played in the FA Cup, won two Scottish Cups, and even played in the Copa MX. Is there a special energy to Cup play, to those live-or-die games?
DM: Cups are different. It’s one game. There’s no tomorrow if you lose. The league is its own thing because you can lose and then go and get three points and get yourself back on track. In the Cups you get a little bit more intensity. It’s just that one game. You lose and you’re out. That, in itself, makes Cup games interesting, fun and hard. But that’s what makes soccer great. Open Cup is the same and so far we’ve approached it the right way in Houston and that’s why we’re here in the Semifinal.
Is there a special energy to the later rounds of the Open Cup, where it’s more serious business than trying to keep from someone springing an upset on you? What’s different about a Semifinal than those early rounds?
DM: For me, nothing’s different. It’s still the same – you just need to win. You might play a team that’s in a lower division than you are, but it’s a game you need to play. It doesn’t matter about what gets said or what gets written about who’s stronger or weaker. None of that stuff really matters in soccer. You still have to go out and play that game.
(From an Under-17 World Cup in 1999 to today, Beasley's career spans two decades)
You’re up against a tough opponent in LAFC – with a lot of attacking weapons. How do you approach a team like that?
DM: Defensively we have to be very organized. We have to talk and communicate and make sure everyone knows their job and does their job. It’s not just defenders; it’s everyone. Defending always starts up top. How we press and how we move as a team will be important. Are we pressing in the right spots? Are we making it hard for their top players? We need to make that day difficult for them. When you play a team that likes to possess and has a lot of attacking options, you have to play as a team. You have to defend as a team and attack as a team. If we do, we have a shot to go to the Final. LAFC won’t be intimidated coming to Houston. We played them here not long ago. And they ran us off the park in the first half [it ended 2-2]. We didn’t touch the ball. We learned from that game and hopefully you’ll see an improved Dynamo team this time.
You’ve had staying power as a player and you’re still on the field while so many from your generation have hung up their boots. When you were a teenager winning Open Cups in Chicago, did you ever think you’d still be at it when you’re 36?
DM: To be honest, no. You dream about playing a sport as long you can. When you’re a kid, you just play. When I was 16 and 17, I was just playing. I wasn’t thinking about where I’d be in 20 years. When you’re young, you don’t think about that stuff and I think that’s what makes young players so exciting. They just play.
Just from talking for a while, it’s clear you still have that competitive spark…
DM: I’m still playing because I still have that drive. It’s in my nature. My body feels good and I feel fit and there’s a team out there that wants me. At the end of the day, you need that too. If that happens, I’m going to play. If I feel I can still contribute and be good, I’ll play. I still wake up and I’m excited to train every day. I haven’t gotten that feeling that soccer’s a job yet. You hear a lot of older guys talking about that, about how at the end of a career, soccer’s like a job – getting up in the morning, the grind, traveling, being away from your family. But I still feel good. I won’t be one of those players who people say ‘he should have retired five years ago’. When I’m done, I’ll be done. I won’t hang around, so when I feel that feeling like it’s a job, I’ll stop. Simple.
(Beasley's club career took him to England, Holland, Germany, Scotland & Mexico)
What’s the secret to that kind of longevity in the game?
DM: You pick things up from the veterans you’ve known along the way. Around the age of 29, I started asking guys questions. How are you able to play this long? What do you do? What do you eat? I asked them all the questions I could think of. When you’re 16 or 17 you just see what they do and you’re ready to learn lessons. You don’t need to ask when you’re that young. You see them coming and doing the right things. You see them being on time and taking care of their bodies. They go to the gym after training. You see those little things and it becomes a part of your routine. For me, I try to take care of my body. I try to eat right and do the right things to make sure I’m fit and ready to play because here, in Houston, it’s hot. I’m sweating just sitting out here doing this interview [laughs].
And a season in MLS is pretty long…
DM: It is a long season. Preseason starts at the end of January and if you make it all the way, you’re through to December. That’s a long season right there. When you get older, you can’t just roll out of bed and throw on your cleats and hit the field [laughs]. You can’t do that when you’re 36. At least I can’t and I don’t know many who can.
Do you still love the game like you did back when? Do you get the same charge?
DM: One hundred percent. I still get butterflies when a game’s about to start, when I hear the National Anthem. I still feel those nerves and that’s when I know I still love the game. I know I still want to play. I know I still have that fire and that desire to keep playing and to keep winning. I really hate losing – anyone I’ve ever played with can tell you this [laughs]. Even in training sessions, I just can’t stand it. I’m in a bad mood all day if I lose. I can’t take a joke after I lose. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I’m pissed and that’s it. I’ve had that mentality with me since I was young. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Those little things tell me I still have the passion and the desire.
(The oldest player in the Houston Dynamo team, Beasley is always open to chat with the young guns coming up)
In a career that’s taken you to four World Cups, to England and Holland, Mexico and the Champions League, is it possible to pick out a highlight? Is your mind drawn to one moment, one success or defeat, above all others?
DM: I haven’t really thought about that, to be honest. I’m sure when I stop playing, things will come into my mind. But now I’m concentrating on the Dynamo, on trying to win a championship here and help the club get back to where it was in 2006 and 2007 when they were winning MLS titles [two in a row]. I’m about looking ahead and making new memories. The ultimate thing is to win. You remember winning. If we can win a championship or an Open Cup, we’ll know we did something right.
- READ MORE: Big Moments from #USOC2018 Quarterfinals
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- READ MORE: Jim Curtin: Philly Still Hungry for the Cup
- READ MORE: Philadelphia & Houston Drawn to Host #USOC2018 Semifinals
Five members of the current Union team suited up in at least one of the ill-fated Finals that represent both the highest achievement of an ambitious club and its most painful failure. “I remember I had goose-bumps before the games,” added Ray Gaddis, a no-nonsense defender with the Union since 2012 who started both Finals. “The drums beat a little harder. The anticipation and the atmosphere were just something remarkable.”
(Fans at Talen Energy Stadium suffered - though not in silence - through two consecutive Final losses at home)
Up Twice, Down Twice
The Union, playing in MLS for only four seasons in 2014, were heavy underdogs heading into that year’s Final. The Seattle Sounders were loaded with talent and had recently won three straight Open Cup crowns between 2009 and 2011. But after taking a lead through Maurice Edu, belief grew among the Union and the 15,000-plus fans in Chester, PA. That belief turned to heartbreak when Chad Barrett equalized and the Sounders’ attacking dynamite blew the roof off the stadium in extra-time. Gaddis, who had the unfortunate task of minding Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, still feels the sting of that loss. “We’re motivated. We’re always motivated,” added the outside back, a product of the club’s youth system. “The stakes are higher now as we head into the Semifinal. It puts a feeling in you that you want to get back to where you were then. We got a taste of it and it’s something we want to do and do again.”
Gaddis got to do it all over again, the very next year. The Union took a 1-0 lead once again, only to lose it, and eventually lose out in a penalty shootout to four-time Open Cup champs Sporting Kansas City. It was heartbreak once more, and crueler this time, as the Union were, according to most observers, the better team on the day. “We just want to get back there again,” added Blake, the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, who was just getting his feet wet in 2015. “We were so close, yet so far and it left a bitter taste in our mouths,” said the Jamaican international and former UCONN Husky. “We just need to get back there and finish the job this time.”
(John McCarthy replaced starting - and current - goalkeeper Andre Blake for the shootout in 2015)
There’s still pain. It’s not all water under the Commodore Barry Bridge. You can hear it in the voices of the players. No one likes to talk too loud or too long about big losses. So close to a first trophy in front of home fans desperate for a party two years running is a tough pill to swallow. But there’s no denying, disappointments aside, the Union – who have never been beaten in 90 minutes of regular time in an Open Cup match since head coach Jim Curtin took the reins in 2014 – are among the best Cup teams in recent memory. Their 13 wins since 2014 is tops among MLS teams in the competition and another against Chicago Fire, no Open Cup slouches themselves, at home on Wednesday in the 2018 Semifinals would see them into a third Final in the space of five years.
It’s no surprise that head coach Jim Curtin has whipped his Union into Cup specialists. He won the tournament twice as a player with Chicago Fire under then-coach Bob Bradley, an avowed advocate of the Open Cup as a prize, a concept and a target worth aiming at. “The mentality we had in Chicago was to take the Open Cup very seriously,” said Curtin, still 39 and with vivid memories of lifting American soccer’s oldest trophy in 2003 and 2005. “I’ve tried to bring that mentality to Philadelphia and our players have responded. We’re in the Final Four again and these are the kinds of games where you learn a lot about your players – games of consequence.”
(Defender Ray Gaddis played in both the 2014 and 2015 Finals - and is eager for a third in 2018)
Curtin has learned much about his men in the current campaign – from Homegrown standout defenders like Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty, who helped hammer the Richmond Kickers 5-0, to captain Alejandro Bedoya and speed merchant Fafa Picault. The two midfielders are in blistering form and linking up brilliantly with Haris Medunjanin, David Accam and Cory Burke. “Mentality matters,” said the young coach. “But you need to get your mix right. You need to be able to push and get results. We’re always a tough out in this competition. You have to rotate your squad the right way. You have to sub guys in when needed. A lot of big decisions go into it. In the Cup, you just need to find a way.”
One Win Away Again
The Union have found a way in 2018. But Curtin still remembers, ruefully, his rookie season and the loss to Seattle, and the repeat frustration a year later. Like his players, the coach wears it as it is: an achievement and a failure. Something to be set right. “Any time you lose a Final it stays with you. I think about it all the time,” said Curtin, a straight shooter all the way. “What could I have done differently. How we hit the post twice. But at the end of the day, only one team’s happy. At the end of the Open Cup, only one team’s happy. It motivates you to do better and do more. I have that feeling of lifting the trophy as a player and that’s something I want my players to feel now. When you win a trophy with a bunch of guys, it’s forever. It’s permanent and no one can take it away. We’ve been very close and the challenge is to take the next step together.”
(Union fans will be hoping for more smiles in their salute after the Semifinal with Chicago Fire)
The Semifinal on Wednesday will be Philadelphia’s last home game of the 2018 Open Cup, no matter what the result. The fates, and the flip of an old coin, have decided they won’t host this year’s Final. But they could, whether in Houston or sunny LA, lay to rest some noisy old ghosts – the kind that true competitors are desperate to silence. “We’re one game away from being in a Final and in a Final anything can happen,” said Curtin, who knows that fact better than most. He also knows this better than most, and learned it more painfully: “If we get there we’ll be on the road, but you don’t need to be at home to win.”