The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, crowns its 2018 champion on Wednesday, Sept. 26, when twice Major League Soccer toppers (2006 and 2007) Houston Dynamo host two-time Open Cup runners-up (2014, 2015) Philadelphia Union. And no matter what the result on the day, history will be made in this, the 105th Open Cup Final.
New Winner No Doubt
While we don’t know who’ll be lifting the trophy later this month, we do know it will be their first time doing it. The Union, coming on line as an MLS expansion club in 2010, came closest with a pair of Final appearances – both at home – in consecutive years in 2014 and 2015. This will be their first Open Cup Final on the road and a third Final in the space of five years. They’re also on a 12-game Open Cup unbeaten run and haven’t lost in regulation since the 2014 edition. While impressive, none of this is likely to have hosts Houston Dynamo shaking in their cowboy boots. The coin-flip has been kind to the Texans and this year’s Final will be their fifth straight home game of the 2018 Open Cup.
For the second year in a row, ESPN will broadcast the Final with Univision Deportes Network (UDN) showing the game for the Spanish-language market. If you’re planning to be in South Texas on the 26th, you can still get tickets!
How They Got There
Houston Dynamo have played all four of their 2018 Open Cup games at their BBVA Compass Stadium, the venue for the Final. This will be the Texas club’s first Open Cup Final – a pair of Semifinal appearances in 2006 and 2009 stand out as their best previous performances. This year, they made history with a lopsided win in the Fourth Round over North Texas amateurs NTX Rayados (5-0), a slim Round of 16 win (1-0) over Minnesota United, a Quarterfinal strafing of defending champs Sporting Kansas City (4-2) and a Semifinal against LAFC that produced six goals in regulation, extended into extra-time and eventually went to PKs. While the Dynamo’s MLS season hasn’t gone according to plan, coach Wilmer Cabrera has his team humming in the Cup. Mauro Manotas is second on the scoring charts with four goals (just one behind LAFC’s Diego Rossi and Miami United FC’s David Ochoa). Young talent Memo Rodriguez and old hand Philippe Senderos have also been crucial on this historic home run.
(Senderos & Manotas have been in fine form for the Dynamo in the 2018 Open Cup)
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Philadelphia Union benefitted from similar home comforts, having played all four of their games at home at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa. Having lost two Finals there previously, Jim Curtin and company may not be all that upset about trying their luck away from home this time. Like Houston, the Union opened their account with a whopping 5-0 win – this time over 1995 Open Cup champs Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League. Then came slim wins over 2018 runners-up New York Red Bulls (2-1) in the Round of 16, a 1-0 Quarterfinal win over Orlando City SC and a 3-0 thumping of Chicago Fire in the Semifinal. The most impressive stat of their campaign is the fact that they only conceded one goal in the space of nearly 400 minutes of soccer. Andre Blake, the team’s goalkeeper and Jamaican international, has been outstanding, as has captain Alejandro Bedoya in midfield and striker Cory Burke.
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(Jim Curtin - center - won a pair of Open Cups with Chicago Fire before taking over as head coach of the Union)
What They’re Saying
“I’ll tell you this, it’s very tough to get to a Final. And they’re very, very rare. You never know when your last chance is going to come. To go all the way there and lose to Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins in 120 minutes (2014) is still difficult to take – and then to follow it up by losing in a PK shootout at home to Kansas City (2015), that’s tough too.” Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin won two Open Cups as a player and still feels the sting of losing two Finals on the other side of the touchline.
“We have a drive to win the U.S. Open Cup. It’s even more powerful this year than in the past. We’re very eager and we’ve been giving it our all. When you imagine yourself winning the Cup it acts as motivation. In this life you have to dream in order to win. But you also have to keep working hard.” Still just 22, Colombian-born ace Mauro Manotas is Houston Dynamo’s all-time top scorer in Open Cup history with seven goals.
The Long Road Behind
The initial field for the 2018 Open Cup comprised 97 teams from all levels of American soccer – from amateurs to developmental to full professionals. The tournament was marked by excitement and upsets, with amateurs NTX Rayados knocking off full pros OKC Energy FC and booking a date with eventual Finalists Houston Dynamo of MLS. FC Golden State Force, part-timers out of California, also reached the Fourth Round, where they lost 3-1 to LA Galaxy but still scooped up the $25,000 prize (on a tie-breaker) as the amateur team to advance farthest into the tournament. Farther down the trough, Louisville City FC (of the second-tier USL) broke away from the pack and picked up $25K with a Round of 16 win over fellow USLers Nashville SC before finally succumbing to the Chicago Fire in the Quarterfinals to leave the Semifinal stage an all-MLS affair.
(FC Golden State Force picked up $25k as the amateur team that went farthest in the 2018 Open Cup
It’s also worth highlighting that the official Open Cup single-game attendance record was broken this year, when 41,012 fans turned up to watch Chicago Fire beat Atlanta United in Georgia’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Round of 16.
The States Race
Should Houston prove successful at home, they would become only the second team from the great state of Texas to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in its 105-year history. FC Dallas did it most recently in 2016 when they beat the New England Revolution. Before that, they picked up the 1997 crown when they were known as the Dallas Burn. In all, Texas has only ever sent five teams to the Final and this will be their fifth time hosting. Philadelphia Union, on the other hand, come out of a long tradition of Open Cup success. The first team from Pennsylvania to win the competition was Bethlehem Steel in 1915, and a win for the Union would bring the Keystone State’s number of Open Cup winners to seven (and 15 overall titles to tie California for second-best behind New York).
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Romance, underdogs and stats only go so far these days. Houston Dynamo and the Philadelphia Union are playing not only for bragging rights but a Cup to polish in their trophy cabinet. The winner of the U.S. Open Cup picks up a cash prize of $300,000 and books a place in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League, the competition that sends Concacaf’s representative to the FIFA Club World Cup. The runner-up doesn’t walk away empty handed, taking home $100,000 in prize money.
And there you have it. Be sure to tune in and may the best team win.