U.S. Soccer
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- U-16 Boys’ National Team Match Report -

Match: U-16 BNT vs Japan U-16 BNT
Date: Thursday, April 13, 2017
Competition: 45th International Tournament of Montaigu
Venue: Espace Sportif Gaston Renaud, Mouilleron-le-Captif, France
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. CEST
Weather: 65 degrees; clear

Scoring Summary: 1          2          F                     
USA                            1          1          2                                
JPN                            1          2          3

USA – Konrad De la Fuente (Aidan Morris)                               3rd minute
JPN – Ten Miyagi                                                                            30
JPN – Shota Fujio (Penalty Kick)                                                 66
JPN – Taiki Yamada                                                                       68
USA – Gabe Segal (Victor Rangel)                                             76

Lineups:
USA: 1-Nico Defreitas-Hansen, 2-Ian Hoffmann, 3-Julian Araujo, 15-Victor Rangel, 4-Kevin Peraza (20-Gabe Segal, 69), 6-Mario Anaya (19-Stefan Stojanovic, 56), 13-Nelson Martinez, 7-Aidan Morris, 21-Jalen Anderson (14-Jordan Bender, 41), 11-Jose Rivas (17-Matko Miljevic, 69), 9-Konrad De La Fuente
Subs not used: 8-Aidan O’Toole, 10-Mitch Cruz, 12-David Ochoa, 18-Armando Haro, 24-Abraham Gonzalez
Head Coach: Omid Namazi

JPN: 1-Leobrian Kokubo, 17-Dai Tsukamoto, 3-Kanato Kano, 14-Maaya Sako (20-Seiji Kimura, 70), 2-Yohei Homma, 5-Gijo Sehata (4-Shumpei Naruse, 70), 18-Sho Iwamoto, 6-Shunsuke Tanimoto (8-Riyo Kawamoto, 70), 16-Ren Inoue (9-Jun Nishikawa, 56), 10-Shota Fujio, 19-Ten Miyagi (13-Koki Saito, 41)
Subs not used: 7-Rihito Yamamoto, 11-Noah Browne, 12-Taiki Yamada, 15-Riita Mori, 18-Sho Iwamoto
Head Coach: Yoshiro Moriyama

Stats Summary: USA / JPN
Shots: 4 / 7
Shots on Goal: 4 / 5
Saves: 2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 1 / 2
Fouls: 7 / 9
Offside: 1 / 3

Misconduct Summary:
JPN – Dai Tsukamoto (caution)                            74th minute

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US Soccer

Holders Sporting KC & Philadelphia Union Book Spots in Open Cup Last Eight

The two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 games on Saturday, June 16 were tense affairs that went right down to the wire. Philadelphia Union, playing in a second straight game at their Talen Energy Stadium, edged out old rivals and 2017 runners-up New York Red Bulls 2-1 in a tight contest. Over in Kansas, defending champions and four-time toppers Sporting Kansas City fought back from a goal down and needed a last-gasp beauty of a winner from Yohan Croizet to seal a 3-2 victory and send FC Dallas packing for a second year on the bounce.

Union Get the Better of Red Bulls (2-1)
The first half from Chester, PA was a wide-open affair that, somehow and against the logic of play, failed to produce a goal. After just five minutes, USA international Alejandro Bedoya sent the speedy Cory Burke away through the right-hand channel and in alone on the Red Bulls goal. Luis Robles – in for injured NYRB Cup keeper Ryan Meara – got down just in time to keep the ball from ending up in the back of his net. Burke remained the danger-man for the home team throughout the opening period, with his speed and good running making him a sharp tip for the Union’s attacking spear.


(Cory Burke was in fine form for the Philadelphia Union in their win over New York Red Bulls)

Up the other end, Carlos Rivas caused trouble in attack for the men from New Jersey. The Colombian speed-merchant forced Union keeper Andre Blake into some unorthodox work in the 25th minute with his physical play. Shortly after, Bedoya sent Ilsinho in behind the defense again at the other end, but the Brazilian winger could only hit over the bar in a half of many chances and wayward finishing. The best chance of the first 45 minutes came on the half-hour mark when Fafa Picault crossed dangerously into the area, but Burke could only put his header wide of the Red Bulls goal from close-up and unmarked. In a half that saw the Union take 11 shots on goal to the visitors six, there was time for one more attack before the whistle went. Rivas, however, could only blaze over the bar for the visitors after chasing a hopeful ball in deep behind the Union backline.

The second half began with a flourish of energy and attack from the visitors. Kemar Lawrence hit the woodwork in the 48th minute from close-range and, seconds later, Derrick Etienne failed to take advantage of a break-away for the Red Bulls as he dallied and allowed Auston Trusty the time he needed to swoop in and tackle the ball away. And as so often happens when you miss your chances, the Jersey boys were made to pay in the 52nd minute. Haris Medunjanin, the veteran Bosnian singled out for praise by coach Jim Curtin after a 5-0 win over the Richmond Kickers in the last round, teased Tyler Adams near the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a rocket of a left-footed shot that took a slight deflection before hitting the net. 


(It wasn't the largest crowd of the 2018 finals, but the Union faithful were spirited)

Needing a goal to force extra-time, Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsh – a former Open Cup winner as a player – brought on Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer. But before the fresh men could get the oil warmed through their engines, Burke went and snatched a goal at the other end. Pouncing on a good piece of service from Bedoya, the Jamaican striker kept his cool to slot home and make it 2-0 for the Union in the 61st minute. Four minutes after that, Royer hit the post and Wright-Phillips cut the lead in half in the 78th minute with a calm finish from just inside the penalty area to set up a nervy end to the contest. But despite some jittery moments, the Union held firm and rode their 2-1 win over their old Northeast rivals into the Quarterfinals.

Five-Goal Thriller Sees SKC Through (3-2)
The second game of the night was a rematch of the enthralling Open Cup Quarterfinal from last year between defending champions Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas. The home side had to fight back from a goal down at their Children’s Mercy Park to keep their dream of a repeat – and a fifth overall title – alive. Talented striker Daniel Salloi, still just 21 years old, scored a pair of goals in the 3-2 victory that was capped by a scorching winner off the full volley by Croizet that will surely be a candidate for goal of the tournament.


(Not subtle - FC Dallas walk past SKC's four Open Cup trophies on their way to the pitch)

FC Dallas, looking for vengeance after last year’s 0-3 loss in extra-time at the very same stadium, were on the front foot early. And after only 19 minutes, Michael Barrios' shot at the back post was well saved by Adrian Zendejas in the SKC goal. But unfortunately for the stand-in keeper – on for usual number-one Tim Melia – the ball bounced back out to Barrios who crossed it high and over toward goal. There, Carlos Gruezo had the easiest of jobs tapping in from close range.

The game, played in 90-degree heat, turned testy after the opening goal. No quarter was asked for or given in a midfield that became increasingly dominated by rangy SKC captain Roger Espinoza. The Honduran international saw his fine flicked header saved by Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez in the 40th minute. But three minutes after that, the home side got the equalizer their good play deserved. They were twice denied by the woodwork before Graham Zusi laid in an inch-perfect ball from the left that Ike Opara headed toward the FC Dallas goal. Young Salloi made sure with a finish from close range to send the sides into the break balanced at 1-1.


(Daniel Salloi stretches to score his first goal in the 3-2 win for SKC over FC Dallas)

The second half was jam-packed with incident (and goals). Salloi struck first with his second of the night after 66 minutes. He was the beneficiary of a botched clearance by the FC Dallas backline and a series of fine touches from his own teammates. The finish was a thing of subtle beauty as the Hungarian turned and hit just inside the box for his sixth goal in all competitions this year and his fifth goal overall in the Open Cup (2017 and 2018). But Dallas refused to go away, and Roland Lamah drew level at 2-2 in the 77th minute with a scrappy goal that took a series of deflections en route to the net. And just when it looked like the game was destined for extra-time, Frenchman Croizet settled the affair at 3-2 with a goal worthy of winning any game anywhere in the world. His stunning volley swerved into the top corner from 25 yards out, won the game for his team and will live on long in the lore of the U.S. Open Cup.

With their impressive wins on the night, Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union both move through to the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, joining last night’s winners Portland Timbers in the Last Eight. SKC will meet the winner of Wednesday, June 20’s Round of 16 meeting between Houston Dynamo and Minnesota United while Philadelphia take on the winner of DC United and Orlando City (also to be played next Wednesday).

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

June 15

Portland Timbers (MLS) 1-0 LA Galaxy (MLS)

8 p.m. PT

Providence Park; Portland, Ore.

June 16

Philadelphia Union (MLS) 2-1 New York Red Bulls (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Talen Energy Stadium; Chester, Pa.

June 16

Sporting Kansas City (MLS) 3-2 FC Dallas (MLS)

8 p.m. CT

Children's Mercy Park; Kansas City, Kan.

June 18

Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)

7:30 p.m. CT

BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas

June 20

D.C. United (MLS) vs. Orlando City SC (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.

June 20

Louisville City FC (USL) vs. Nashville SC (USL)

7 p.m. ET

Lynn Stadium (Univ. of Louisville); Louisville, Ky.

June 20

Atlanta United FC (MLS) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)

7:30 p.m. ET

Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Atlanta, Ga.

June 20

Los Angeles FC (MLS) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (USL)

7:30 p.m. PT

Banc of California Stadium; Los Angeles, Calif.

 

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U.S. Open Cup Jun 16, 2018
US Soccer

Blanco Strike Sinks Galaxy; Sends Timbers Through to Quarters

A lone goal from diminutive Argentine Sebastian Blanco on the half-hour mark was enough to see the Portland Timbers past LA Galaxy (1-0) and through to the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The home side – playing at their Providence Park for a second game on the trot – were always in firm control and never looked in danger of losing despite the slimness of the final scoreline. The Timbers now move on to meet the winner of next Wednesday’s Round of 16 game between Los Angeles FC (MLS) and Sacramento Republic (USL).

The home side came out swinging in the early stages of the first half, signaling their intent with a flurry of attacking play. Inside the first 15 minutes, captain Diego Charra, powerful striker Samuel Armenteros, Blanco and Fanendo Adi all had good sights at goal only to be thwarted by wayward finishing or the fine reflexes of David Bingham in the LA Galaxy net. Even without playmaker Diego Valeri, the Timbers bossed all the meaningful possession in the first half and controlled the midfield with Blanco at the top of a diamond formation that seemed to drive the visitors crazy.


(The Timbers Army was out in force for the Round of 16 win at Providence Park)

The goal that Portland’s impressive play warranted came after 30 minutes – and it was a team product of the highest order. The ball moved through midfield from left to right and found its way up front for Adi, who back-heeled into the penalty area for the outstanding Blanco. The Argentine livewire wriggled by his marker and slotted coolly past the keeper for a goal that brought the home fans to their feet. The Galaxy managed to muster a little resistance near the end of the opening period, but they were unable to lay hands on an equalizer as the whistle went for halftime with the Timbers in total control, having taken seven shots to only one from the visitors in the first 45 minutes of play.

The Timbers kept up the pace and pressure at the start of the second half. Armenteros had a pair of chances early on, but his luck was out on this night. One of his efforts skimmed the crossbar and the other – a brilliant bit of chest control and a full volley – was blocked at the last second by Galaxy captain Ashley Cole – at 37, the oldest field player in Major League Soccer. The men from LA grew into the game as the second period progressed, finding the gaps and holes that eluded them in the first half. But they suffered a big setback in the 55th minute when Ola Kamara went down with a serious muscle injury and was forced out of the game (he was replaced by Ariel Lassiter who scored a pair of goals in the side’s Fourth Round win over amateurs FC Golden State Force).


(Armenteros was impressive for the full 90 minutes, but he couldn't find the back of the net)

Chris Pontius had a chance for the Galaxy with a header from close-range in the 73rd minute, but Portland’s keeper Jeffery Attinella – with precious little to do up to that point – was more than up to the task with a simple standing save. The visitors poured numbers forward in search of an equalizer in the final quarter-hour and they forced another save for Attinella when Lassiter carved out a little shooting space in the 88th minute. But the Timbers – despite a few shaky moments – weathered the storm to become the first team through to the Quarterfinals of the 2018 Open Cup thanks to the slim 1-0 win.  

“I’m very happy because we played a good game and had good moments throughout,” said Blanco, the hero for the home side who scored his first-ever Open Cup goal. “We suffered a little in the last 20 minutes when LA they put the pressure on us, but we were the better team on the night. We have passion and fire as a team and that’s something you need – especially in a cup like this, which is very important to us.”


(Blanco's goal was his first-ever in the Open Cup)

Tune in to ussoccer.com tomorrow night (June 16) for two more Round of 16 games as Philadelphia Union travel to take on 2017 runners-up New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. ET) and defending champions Sporting Kansas City open up their Children’s Mercy Park to 2017 champs FC Dallas in a rematch of last year’s scintillating Quarterfinal (8 p.m. CT).

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

June 15

Portland Timbers (MLS) 1-0 LA Galaxy (MLS)

8 p.m. PT

Providence Park; Portland, Ore.

June 16

Philadelphia Union (MLS) vs. New York Red Bulls (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Talen Energy Stadium; Chester, Pa.

June 16

Sporting Kansas City (MLS) vs. FC Dallas (MLS)

8 p.m. CT

Children's Mercy Park; Kansas City, Kan.

June 18

Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)

7:30 p.m. CT

BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas

June 20

D.C. United (MLS) vs. Orlando City SC (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.

June 20

Louisville City FC (USL) vs. Nashville SC (USL)

7 p.m. ET

Lynn Stadium (Univ. of Louisville); Louisville, Ky.

June 20

Atlanta United FC (MLS) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)

7:30 p.m. ET

Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Atlanta, Ga.

June 20

Los Angeles FC (MLS) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (USL)

7:30 p.m. PT

Banc of California Stadium; Los Angeles, Calif.

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U.S. Open Cup Jun 16, 2018
US Soccer

Serious Business: #USOC2018 Round of 16 Preview

With a bracket set leading down the yellow brick road to the Final, the rubber meets the road in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s Round of 16. There will be no more experiments, most of the underdogs have been sent packing by the big boys and the tension will be ratcheted up with a place in the Quarterfinals on the line. Eight games make up this round which will be played between Friday, June 15 and Wednesday, June 20. Hearts will be broken, dreams realized and eight teams will stroll or suffer through to fight another day.

First up, the lone game on June 15. It’s a tough test on the road for two-time Open Cup champs LA Galaxy, who travel with their cast of young Cup starlets to take on Portland Timbers in a rematch of their MLS league contest earlier this month that ended all square at 1-1 at the same venue – Providence Park. The hosts arrive at this stage via a 2-0 win over one of last year’s semifinalists (San Jose Earthquakes) and are now set to use home-field advantage for a second Cup game running. “The last time we met Portland it was really tight,” said LA striker Ariel Lassiter, who scored a pair of goals in the last round against PDL amateurs FC Golden State Force. “That was a hot day-time game, and this one will be faster and really tight. Maybe one goal will win it – we’ve been playing as a unit so no matter who’s on the pitch, I like our chances.” 


(Portland Timbers are at home for a second straight game in the Cup - and the fans might have their say)

In one of two games on Saturday, June 16, Philadelphia Union will want to keep up their fine form when they take on 2017 runners-up New York Red Bulls. Union boss Jim Curtin blooded a stable of talented teenagers in a Fourth Round 5-0 stomping of 1995 champs Richmond Kickers (USL) and he’s expecting far stiffer competition this time out against a motivated Red Bulls squad led by free-scoring ace Bradley Wright-Philips, who tied for top scorer in last year’s Open Cup. “Jesse Marsch is a very close friend [the two won a pair of Open Cups together as players with Chicago Fire] and we’ve been rivals as coaches for about nine years now in MLS,” said Curtin. “Our teams know each other very well. There’s always some crazy moments because this is the Cup.”

The second game on Saturday pits defending champions Sporting Kansas City against 2016 toppers FC Dallas in a rematch of last year’s Open Cup Quarterfinal, which proved to be the turning-point en route to a fourth crown for SKC. That game, played at the very same Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas, saw three red cards, three goals, a serious injury and more incident than you could shake a stick at. The replay should be just as interesting.


(The Sporting Kansas City - FC Dallas rematch is bound to a cracker)

Monday, June 18th’s lone contest pits Houston Dynamo against Minnesota United. The Texans had a tough nut to crack in their Fourth Round opener, but ultimately overwhelmed amateurs NTX Rayados 5-0 at home in a game where coach Wilmer Cabrera was able to get a look at the talent he has coming through his youth system. MNUFC, on the other hand, will be game-ready after suffering 120 minutes and penalties against USL’s MLS-bound Ohioans FC Cincinnati in a game that was competitive and on a knife edge the whole way through.

D.C. United and Orlando City (one of four Round of 16 games on Wednesday June 20) meet with both sides desperate for a good Cup run, if only to distract from their inconsistent form so far in MLS league play. Sacha Kljestan, a losing finalist with New York Red Bulls last year, pulled the strings in midfield for mid-table Orlando City against amateurs Miami United FC in the last round. For D.C., last place in the MLS Eastern Conference, young gun Ian Harkes put in a fine Cup performance with a goal in the capital club’s tight penalty shootout win over North Carolina FC of USL.


(Orlando City strolled past Miami United FC of NPSL in the previous round)

Atlanta United will likely break the all-time attendance record for an Open Cup match when they open the doors of their Mercedes-Benz Stadium to visitors Chicago Fire – a team with Open Cup pedigree and four titles to their name. The Fire, led by scorer Nemanja Nikolic, had to suffer through a topsy-turvy 2-2 draw against Columbus Crew and a marathon penalty shootout to reach the Round of 16, while the Georgians had an easy day at the office putting three past USL’s Charleston Battery in a 3-0 win.

Second-tier Hopefuls
A trio of clubs from the second-division United Soccer League (USL) are still alive and kicking in the 2018 Open Cup – and at least one of them will survive to reach the Quarterfinal as Division II clubs Nashville SC and Louisville City square off head-to-head next week.

The first-year men from Tennessee haven’t lost in ten games and are breathing fire after picking off MLS side Colorado Rapids in the previous Round. The team is led by a former Rapids coach in Gary Smith, and he’s assembled a squad of homegrown talent with top-level experience combined with internationals packing flair and panache. But Lou City will be no pushovers as they showed by coming out on top of a classic up-and-down Open Cup win over 2007 champs New England Revolution in the previous round. The all-USL Round of 16 match-up will be played at the very same Lynn Stadium on the campus of the University of Louisville where City upended the Revs 3-2, and the home side will be hoping a big crowd turns up again to bring them luck while they battle a string of injuries currently impacting the side. None hurts more than English striker Cameron Lancaster, who’s likely to miss the match after dislocating his shoulder).


(The winner of the all-USL game between Nashville SC & Louisville City will book a place in the Quarters)

The eighth and final game sees Los Angeles FC welcome Sacramento Republic of USL. The Republic were in fine form in the previous round and were the far better team up against four-time champs Seattle Sounders at their home stadium in California’s capital. A late goal, against the run of play forced extra time, and might have sunk lesser teams - but not SacRep, who stormed through on goals from Cameron Iwasa and Jure Matjasic, to win 2-1 after 120 minutes of play. LAFC, playing in their first year as a club, have assembled a team loaded with past Open Cup all-stars. Bob Bradley won two as a coach - and Latif Blessing, Benny Feilhaber and Walker Zimmermann have all lifted the Cup within the past two editions.  

Round of 16 - Match Center 

Date

Game (home team listed first)

Time

Venue

June 15

Portland Timbers (MLS) vs. LA Galaxy (MLS)

8 p.m. PT

Providence Park; Portland, Ore.

June 16

Philadelphia Union (MLS) vs. New York Red Bulls (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Talen Energy Stadium; Chester, Pa.

June 16

Sporting Kansas City (MLS) vs. FC Dallas (MLS)

8 p.m. CT

Children's Mercy Park; Kansas City, Kan.

June 18

Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)

7:30 p.m. CT

BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas

June 20

D.C. United (MLS) vs. Orlando City SC (MLS)

7 p.m. ET

Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.

June 20

Louisville City FC (USL) vs. Nashville SC (USL)

7 p.m. ET

Lynn Stadium (Univ. of Louisville); Louisville, Ky.

June 20

Atlanta United FC (MLS) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)

7:30 p.m. ET

Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Atlanta, Ga.

June 20

Los Angeles FC (MLS) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (USL)

7:30 p.m. PT

Banc of California Stadium; Los Angeles, Calif.

ussoccer.com is the official website of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and will provide a stream of all 16 games of the Fourth Round. Comprehensive video and written coverage of the tournament will also be available. You can follow the Open Cup on Twitter and Instagram @OpenCup and Facebook @OfficialOpenCup.

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U.S. Open Cup Jun 14, 2018
US Soccer

Jim Curtin: Still Hungry for the Cup

Philadelphia Union boss Jim Curtin talks fast when the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup comes up. He’s got a lot to say about it and the excitement seems to build in his voice as he looks back and forward. Still just 38, he won the Cup twice as player with Chicago Fire and brought his current club seconds away from glory on two occasions.

With nearly two decades under his belt as a player and coach in America’s top professional ranks, Curtin has come to know, and cherish, the peculiar magic of America’s oldest soccer tournament. And he took time out to chat with ussoccer.com about the special kind of alchemy – the luck, momentum, moments and balance – needed to set the fuse on a successful tournament run.


(A youthful Philadelphia Union ran over Richmond Kickers 5-0 in the last round of the Cup)

ussoccer.com: Five goals scored. Zero conceded. Long minutes for young players. Was the win over Richmond Kickers a perfect start to Philadelphia Union’s 2018 Open Cup?
Jim Curtin:
It gave us a chance to get a good look at some young guys – that’s important. We’re a club that takes the Cup very seriously. But it’s always tough to pick the team and get the balance right. We’d been going hard with games on Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday for a long stretch and it was great to see the young guys step up and treat the game with the right mentality when we needed them.

How important is that “right mentality” going into the first game?
JC: It’s huge and it’s easy to not get it right. Every year you see someone from MLS that doesn’t go out there the right way in the early rounds of the Cup. Upsets happen. MLS teams get picked off. You saw it last year and this year too, and you’ll see it every year there’s a Cup. But I was happy with the professionalism we showed. All five of our Homegrown Players [Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real and Auston Trusty – all teenagers] got valuable minutes. 

How do you get players that young mentally ready for the intensity of a Cup game?
JC:
There’s no way to prepare them for the intensity that comes with these games of consequence that need a winner. You put them out there and see how they respond. And our guys, they got through it and treated it the right way. We got five goals and kept a clean sheet – there’s a lot to be happy about.


(Jim Curtin won a pair of Open Cups under Bob Bradley at Chicago Fire)

What’s the secret, as a coach, to striking a balance between youth and experience in a team with designs on making a deep Cup run?
JC: It starts with having a deep squad. You’re seeing teams now – not just MLS but USL too – having more than just a starting eleven to lean on. Between international duty, injuries, a congested schedule, you need to have players beyond the starters and a few subs. Now, of course, you’re always nervous when you start a 19-year-old in a do-or-die game, but I wasn’t that nervous because all of these guys [Homegrown Players] have gotten starts in the league [MLS] before. I wasn’t nervous that they wouldn’t get the job done. Not one bit. With that said, it’s crucial to have experience in the spine of the team on the day. I do believe this, and we had it. Haris Medunjanin [33-year-old Bosnian international] was a real leader for us.

It’s clear that you have an appreciation, even a deep affection for the Open Cup. Did this grow out of playing with the Chicago Fire under Bob Bradley –a two-time winner and proud Open Cup evangelist?
JC: That’s 100 percent of it. It all grew out of playing for Bob Bradley – he instilled a passion for the Cup in all the players and coaches who came through his system. It’s no coincidence that guys like [Chris] Armas, [Jesse] Marsch, CJ Brown [Curtin’s former Fire teammates] are all in coaching today and that they all take the Open Cup very seriously. They treat it with the right mentality – the same way we try to at the Union. It’s just a special trophy.

What makes it special?
JC: The Open gives a little something more. For players, coaches and for the fans too. That little something extra. Fans get a little closer to the field sometimes. They can feel what’s going on and the stakes get higher and higher the farther you go. There’s only two trophies you can win in this country – Bob Bradley always said that. I believe it and preach it to this day and I’m still chasing that elusive win as a coach.


(Curtin has nearly 20 years experience in MLS on both sides of the touchline)

What’s the secret sauce you need to get a good Cup run going? Is it luck, momentum, individual performances?
JC: There are some things that need to break your way, for sure. But usually if you get on a good run, there’s a player who isn’t having the best season in the league – maybe a ‘keeper or a striker – and he’ll get hot. You can ride the kind of form they get on in the Open Cup. Usually he’ll have a say in a tough game – probably on the road – to get you over a hurdle where you have to push through adversity in the quarters or the semis. Then you just get that feeling like it’s going to go your way. You get through that shootout in Dallas and you just know you’re going to win it. There’s always a defining moment like that. Someone will emerge in the Cup this year who shows a little more and it will seem like it’s coming from nowhere. 

Does a player – or a moment – like that stick out for you in either of your two Cup-winning years in 2003 or 2005?
JC: It felt that way when Damani Ralph scored in the Open Cup Final at the Meadowlands [Giants Stadium in New Jersey 2003]. It was a miserable night. The weather was terrible. His goal went in and we just had that feeling like we were going to do it even though there was twenty minutes to go. Our defense started playing so high and with so much confidence and I remember a couple guys laying out in the last few minutes and making these huge blocks. There were a lot. Our guys left everything on the field that day. There was nothing left in the tank. We knew after that goal went in; we just had that feeling that it would be our Open Cup. I was just a kid and you know the first one’s always best. I was just 22 and I thought you’d get one of those every year [laughs]. That was some feeling. And lifting the trophy – yeah that’s pretty good too. You can’t know it until you’ve done it.  

While you’ve won two Open Cups as a player, you’ve been a losing Finalist twice with Philadelphia Union as a coach. 2014 and 2015 must be bittersweet memories – going so far and coming up short…
JC: We were close those two years. We were really close. We were an extra time session [2014] and a PK shootout [2015] away from lifting the Cup. But we’re still hungry for a trophy as a club.


(Curtin guided the Union to a pair of Open Cup Finals in 2014 & 2015 but still has yet to lift the trophy as a coach)

They were very different Cup runs, but both ended with the Union in the Final…
JC:
That’s the way it is. Each year is different in the Cup. Those two years we got to the Final back to back, they were both so different. 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 is still difficult to take – and then to follow it up by losing in a PK shootout at home to Kansas City, that’s tough too. But as hard as those losses are, I always preach to my players you learn the most from the hard times. A real winner gets back up and wants to get right back up and get at it. They know how intense it is – that final hurdle. And there’s still a long way to go. But you play for those moments and those nights. You never know when the last one’s coming, so you have to cherish them.

Growing up in Pennsylvania – a state with a proud Open Cup tradition going back a century – did you know about the tournament and its history early on?
JC:
I was just a kid when I won the Cup as a player in Chicago for the first time and I really had no idea what the competition even was back then [laughs]. I admit it. But I grew to love it. It’s not just great for the players and fans but for the coaches too. You can try new things. You get challenged in a lot of different ways and many different types of games. And nothing brings out the best in players like pressure. Absolutely nothing.  

People often talk about a spiked level of intensity in the Cup, with it all on the line in every game. How do you prepare for that?
JC: You have to put a lot into it as a team. You have to get your preparations right and to be aware that you’re one mistake away, or one missed penalty away, from going out. It puts everyone on high alert. It can make certain players cautious and then you get to learn a lot about your guys when you’re in extra time or in a shootout or down a man – and those are the kinds of things that happen a lot in the Cup. That intensity is always there and it’s a competition that I really love for it.


(Curtin has described lifting the Open Cup as something you can't know until you've done it) 

You’re up against a former teammate, Jesse Marsch and his New York Red Bulls in the Round of 16. You guys won a pair of Open Cups together in Chicago. What’s it like when you go head-to-head with an old friend like that?
JC:
Well, Jesse’s won more Open Cups than I have. But we shared two together and I can tell you there’s no better feeling than lifting that trophy with a bunch of guys you work hard with. It’s permanent and forever and no one can take it away. I want our players here at the Union to feel that. Jesse is a very close friend and we’ve been rivals as coaches for about nine years now in MLS. So we know each other very well and our teams know each other very well. There’s always some crazy moments and this is the Cup, so we’ll just have to see how it plays out.

So many of your former teammates from the Chicago Fire have gone in to coaching or front offices in MLS. This must be satisfying in some way…
JC: The list is long – and it’s an awesome feeling to know how many of the guys from that great Chicago Fire team have gone on to coach and have an impact on our league. Chris Armas [Assistant coach at New York Red Bulls], Josh Wolff [Assistant coach at Columbus Crew], Carlos Bocanegra [Technical Director and VP at Atlanta United], Jesse Marsch [Head Coach at New York Red Bulls], CJ Brown [Assistant coach at Orlando City], Ante Ravoz [Assistant coach at LAFC] – just look on down the line and they’re everywhere [In all, 17 players from the 2003 Chicago Fire have gone on to careers in coaching]. I was so lucky to be surrounded by guys like these as a young player, as a rookie. That’s where I learned that when you step out on the field in an Open Cup you have to play 100 per cent. I pass that on to my own players and I’m sure they all do the same. It’s always special to run into some of those guys from the old days and see the things they’re doing in the game. Our schedules are busy so it’s not always easy to sit down to a meal and reminisce with them but we do still share those moments, share a beer after a game and those old memories. They never go away. 

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U.S. Open Cup Jun 14, 2018

Sporting KC v FC Dallas: The Suffering Pt. II

You don’t win anything without suffering. That’s just how it goes, especially in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Ask Sporting Kansas City’s players when and where the turning point came in last year’s run to their fourth crown and they’ll all tell you: up against FC Dallas in the Quarterfinal. “It was a tough one, a long game,” said SKC coach Peter Vermes about the epic extra-time contest which is about to be replayed in this year’s Round of 16. “And it brought out the best in us.”

They played a man down for ages, after Seth Sinovic was sent off before the clock hit 15. Players and staff were dealing with the untimely death of an influential and beloved club executive and owner. Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City’s all-action all-star defender, was kicked in the head, suffered a terrifying seizure on the field and was carted off to an area hospital. It was a game where the players dug down into the deepest darkest soil hoping to find what they needed to get through. And all that while up against then-defending Open Cup champions FC Dallas, who were doing their own deep digging.


(Last year's Open Cup Quarterfinal was full of emotion - coming two days after the death of SKC co-owner Neal Patterson)

Down a Man
“A guy gets a red card early – you see it all the time in soccer – but I’ll tell you it’s not easy to play a man down,” said Roger Espinoza, who pulled on the captain’s armband that night with regular skipper Matt Besler away on international duty. Espinoza did the dirty work. He did the running of two men in midfield to fill the numerical gap. “It happened early with a lot of minutes ahead of us on a hot night. But our mentality was that we wanted to the win the night – for us, for our fans, for Neal. We were able to find extra energy from that. We were playing with a lot of emotion.”

The Neal, Espinoza and his teammates were playing for was Neal Patterson, the co-owner who helped mold Sporting Kansas City into the dynasty of American soccer it is today. Every SKC player – and coach Vermes – wore an armband with Neal printed across it in orange letters. The name was stamped on both halves of the pitch; branded into the grass. Patterson died two days before kick-off and the game itself had the feel of an impromptu memorial for a man who loved the passion and grit of the Open Cup more than most. “He [Patterson] just loved the Open Cup,” said the 51-year-old Vermes, who joined the club as head coach in 2009 after finishing his playing career there in 2002. He’s been the driving force behind SKC’s many recent successes and the development of a culture of winning. “He [Patterson] loved all the different leagues having a chance. He loved the strategy behind getting the line-up right for each individual game. He just had a fondness and real appreciation for the Open Cup.”


(The game between hosts SKC & FC Dallas last year saw three red cards, three goals and 120 minutes of action)

Vermes himself has an enduring passion for the 105-year-old tournament, and he’s won three of them as Sporting KC coach. But that hot day, at home at Children’s Mercy Park, a man down at the half and up against a dangerous opponent, the outlook for progress was murky. “I remember in the locker-room at half-time I just told the guys: ‘we might bend in this game, but we’re not breaking.’” Said Vermes, looking back on the 2017 Open Cup pivot that opened a door to a fourth title for SKC. “We knew it would take everyone being involved. We knew we had to get our concentration right because just digging deep doesn’t always get it done. We needed to use everyone and lean on everyone.”

Help from All Over
And everyone did their part. Espinoza did the heavy lifting in midfield, always walking that tightrope between determined and wild. You get the sense he likes that space. He walked the line and allowed Latif Blessing, the young Ghanaian gem who’s since moved on to LAFC, to score a pair of goals. Benny Feilhaber, who’s since joined Blessing in SoCal, came off the bench and set up two goals in extra time after regulation finished 0-0. Tim Melia, the team’s outstanding goalkeeper, kept the score manageable up until the 101st minute when an FC Dallas red card evened the numbers. Opara went so far as to put his head in where Maxi Urruti’s boots were flashing. The FC Dallas striker missed the ball and caught Opara square on the temple. The big defender hit the ground like a sack of laundry, and suffered a seizure after being knocked out cold (it was later confirmed that he ruptured his right eardrum). There was a hush in the stadium – it was one of those moments when human safety, family and friendship dwarf the game.


(Latif Blessing has since moved on to sunny SoCal & LAFC, but he scored two goals for SKC in last year's Quarterfinal)

But there was still more game. 20 minutes more. “I’ve played a lot of games and been around a lot of years, but I never saw anything like that,” said Espinoza, who was near Opara inside the penalty area where he fell. “It didn’t look like he was breathing. He’s just lying there on the field shaking and that’s your teammate. That’s your friend. He’s not opening his eyes and his jaw is closed up tight. It’s one of the toughest moments I’ve ever had as a player.”

An ambulance took Opara away. As the siren faded in the hot Kansas night, the game began again. It was a Cup game. It needed a winner. This was a turning-point moment in a turning-point game. “I’m wearing the captain’s armband so I’ve got to get the players and look them in the eye and make sure they’re ready to go,” said Espinoza, who reminded his teammates that they were level now. Urruti was shown a second yellow for the reckless overhead kick that caught Opara’s skull instead of the ball. And after all those 101 minutes of playing a man down, there was a chance now. “We’re even again and you get a boost from that. It gives you energy. I started telling the guys ‘come on. Let’s do it for Ike. Let’s do it for Neal and for Seth,’ and it all kind of clicked. I mean we could have crumbled right there, but we didn’t and that’s where it turned.”

Injections of Class, Youth & Pace
Vermes moved the chess pieces from the bench. The injection of Benny Feilhaber in a deep-lying midfield position was a stroke of genius (he set up two goals and forced Javier Morales into a professional foul that saw FC Dallas finish the game with nine men). Young Daniel Salloi came on late, too, to seal the affair at 3-0. These were strokes of managerial genius. But they wouldn’t have mattered if the team, a man down for so long, had capitulated under heavy pressure or the heavy emotions of the night. “There were a million excuses to lose,” said Vermes, a legend in his playing days with the U.S. National Team. “But not us. The guys never let their heads drop. They all performed at a very high level in really difficult circumstances. As a coach, to see that, it’s really satisfying. And even more, it was one of those moments when our culture as a club was on display.”


(Roger Espinoza - right - was SKC's captain and leader in the 2017 Quarterfinal)

There were more tests (and more suffering) to come for Sporting KC, who needed to survive a penalty shootout in the Semifinal against San Jose Earthquakes and were tested mightily in the Final against New York Red Bulls. But to a man, the 2017 champions remember that game against FC Dallas as the true test of what they were made of. And they get to do it again on Saturday, at the same stadium in the same humid June air – but this time in the Round of 16. FC Dallas, who were worthy Open Cup winners in 2016, will remember it their own way…and they’ll have their own score to settle.

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U.S. Open Cup Jun 14, 2018
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