The Union were left deflated and defeated on their home turf at PPL Park Wednesday in a 1-1 (7-6) loss on penalty kicks to Sporting Kansas City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.
It was the second straight year the Union were defeated on their home field in the finals, and they could only watch as Kansas City players celebrated their third Open Cup title with their fans in the river corner of the stadium.
“We had the opportunity in a final in front of our home crowd and we came up a little short,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I won’t hide from that if anyone wants to pass blame or anything like that, I’m right here. That goes to me because my players had a great night.”
Curtin’s late-game decisions ended up playing a major factor in the game’s outcome. In the 116th minute, Andrew Wenger replaced potent scorer C.J. Sapong and in the 121st minute, John McCarthy replaced starting goalie Andre Blake.
Wenger went on to miss the game deciding penalty kick, while McCarthy was able to muster just one save on eight shots.
“The thinking isn’t [Wenger’s] going to be our eighth shooter,” Curtin said. “We made the move thinking that if Andrew could get on the ball with his speed maybe he can go by their back line [in the second extra time]. … When it goes to penalty kicks, the unfortunate part of it is someone’s going to wind up being the one that misses. You don’t hold that against them, it’s part of the game.”
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Blake had registered five saves before coming out of the game last minute for McCarthy. The thinking was that McCarthy had handled two other penalty kick situations during the Open Cup run to get the Union to that point. Unfortunately, he didn’t do enough between the pipes this time and was embarrassed on the game-winning tap in by Jordi Quintilla.
“John was a key part of this magical ride,” Union midfielder Michael Lahoud said. “It was very unfortunate that he wasn’t able to do some of the things that got us this far. Hats off to him and especially our goalkeepers. … It’s not an easy thing for a young goalkeeper like John to step into a pressure situation but he’s the man for the job. On a different day, I think he would’ve gotten some of those but I’m really proud of the effort he made.”
But for now, it was yet another Union opportunity wasted. The team entered halftime with a 1-0 lead off of a Sebastien Le Toux goal in the 23rd minute (setting a modern day tournament record of 16 goals) and it looked as if the Union were finally bringing in their first franchise trophy. They didn’t, and instead left fans looking at the next three games as nothing more than draft positioning.
In a severely disappointing season marred by injuries, suspensions and lineup shuffling, this was their opportunity to find solace. Instead, the wounds grew even deeper.