Union surging into U.S. Open Cup final, 'deserve to be' the champs

USA Today Images

Union surging into U.S. Open Cup final, 'deserve to be' the champs

CHESTER, Pa. — With back-to-back wins over two of the league’s hottest teams, the Union are heading into their third U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday with the wind at their back.

“This group deserves to be champion,” boasted Fabinho, who captained the Union’s largely reserve squad on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. “We know how hard we work every day, everybody. We deserve to be champion on Wednesday and we are ready for this game.”

The confidence was palpable following a 2-0 win over Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. Saving the legs of almost all consistent starters, and with goalkeeper Andre Blake falling ill just before kickoff, the Union went with a largely untested group and came out with the victory, thanks to a pair of second-half goals from Jay Simpson.

Other than Simpson and Fabinho, the list of Union starters included Oliver Mbaizo, making his MLS debut, Derrick Jones, Warren Creavalle and John McCarthy.

“We’re on a good run of form at the moment,” said Simpson, who made his first start of the season on Sunday and also contributed to the Union’s midweek win in Seattle against the Sounders. “I’m sure a lot of people didn’t even fancy us to get a result today with our starters missing out on the game because of the Open Cup. We beat some big sides.”

With one loss in their last eight matches, the Union are surging into the title game. Wednesday's match against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium will mark the third time the Union have appeared in the Open Cup championship since 2014. They’ve lost the other two - a fact fresh in the mind of Fabinho, who noted that the club's success of late has changed the dynamic.

“I feel different this year,” he said. “I don’t know why, I can’t say how or why, but I feel different. I feel like we’ll be the champions, you know what I mean. I know the game will be very tough, I know Houston has a good team.”

More importantly, the past struggles have given the confident Union valuable perspective.

“We have guys who work here every day, some guys come here at 5 AM to work for us, help us,” Fabinho said. “The fans are here every weekend, the staff, we have a lot of people behind us. When we go for this game, we have to play like it’s the last game of our lives. It’s important for us, but it’s important for many people behind us.”

Fabinho, Union aim for redemption in 3rd Open Cup final

USA Today Images

Fabinho, Union aim for redemption in 3rd Open Cup final

CHESTER, Pa. — Fabinho cringed at the memory. 

“I remember it because I put everything into it,” the veteran left back said, recalling the 1-1 (7-6) penalty kick defeat to Sporting Kansas City in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final. “My wife tried to help me but I cried for three days in a row.” 

It’s a common sentiment for those that recall the Union’s back-to-back 2014 and 2015 Open Cup final losses. But after taking down the Chicago Fire, 3-0, in the Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the opportunity to cure that misery has presented itself for the club.

“To be honest, there’s still a bitter taste in my mouth,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, who, along with Ray Gaddis and Richie Marquez, also lost to the Seattle Sounders, 3-1, in 2014. “We’ve been there two years in a row. I think this time, the third time, hopefully we can get it right.”

Reaching the final again presents a unique situation for the Union, who will see their third appearance in five seasons. The two infamous losses were at home, but the next one will be away — the Union’s first away match of the tournament. 

“Any time a different team comes in your home ground and gets to celebrate and you have to watch them, it’s always a horrible feeling,” said Blake, whose club faces the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. “We get a chance to go somewhere else and celebrate on someone else’s pitch. It’s gonna be great. I think all the guys are looking forward to it.”

They’re also looking to avoid infamy. Three final losses in five years would make the Union the Buffalo Bills of the modern Open Cup, something they’d desperately like to avoid. 

“Don’t say that,” Union manager Jim Curtin shot out, when presented with the possibility of becoming the Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls. “We’ve had about as heartbreaking of losses as we could’ve had in those two. I still believe it makes you stronger. Certain types of people that would say, I don’t want to get to a final game because you could have that Buffalo Bills thing come up. But you can’t operate like that in life. You have to go for it.”

It’s that hungry-dog mentality that could give the Union the edge — and first-ever trophy.

“In soccer, to have a chance to be champions, you cannot lose,” Fabinho said. “You have to play like it’s the last game of your life. That’s how we have to treat anyone we play against. Everybody has to have this mentality to win it this year.”

Union re-sign 3 players ahead of reentry draft

USA Today Images

Union re-sign 3 players ahead of reentry draft

The Union on Wednesday re-signed three players: defender Fabinho and midfielders Fabian Herbers and Ilsinho.

Fabinho has been a longtime Union staple, playing in 110 matches, sixth-most in franchise history. Among current Union players, Fabinho trails only Ray Gaddis in total matches.

Herbers enters his third season with the Union after totaling four goals and nine assists in his first two. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.

Ilsinho has played over 3,100 minutes in his two seasons with the Union, scoring eight goals with seven assists in 52 matches. Two of the goals were game-winners.