The Philadelphia Union’s most successful play has often been in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Each year the best professional and amateur teams in the nation compete in what amounts to an FA Cup event for American teams. The oldest running soccer cup competition and third oldest in the world is now in its 104th year of competition. The Open Cup has been a big part of the Philadelphia Union’s seasons over the past few years. As this year’s competition begins the question that is asked each comes once again to the forefront: Should the Open Cup matter?
MLS teams enter the Open Cup in the fourth round, and many of them put little importance on the competition. In the past teams, such as the Los Angeles Galaxy practically threw matches to get out of the competition early. This serves multiple purposes: eliminating fixture congestion, alleviating fatigue issues, and focusing on the Supporter’s Shield and upcoming MLS Cup playoffs. Now the Union over the past few years have put a heavy focus on the Open Cup, making two finals, hosting them both, and ultimately losing both.
Now before the question of the importance of the Open Cup is answered another question, the significance of winning needs to be answered. The Open Cup winner gets into the next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. This is too much for many teams, as it adds extra games for only a shot at a spot in another competition. Getting into CONCACAF Champions League can be a big deal for many teams, and often smaller, or less successful sides in MLS have tried to win the Open Cup to get to that competition.
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In the past few years, the Philadelphia Union have pushed in the Open Cup twice making it to the finals, while also being rather underwhelming in the regular season of MLS. Like many teams, they don’t necessarily focus on winning the competition at the outset, but when they make it farther along they tend to take advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself. Like many MLS clubs, they will field a depleted team of backups, and youth products in the competition the first few rounds, and only later bring in their full side. The Union used this twice to make a final, and have also been mostly successful in the last few seasons in the competition.
Now ultimately the question needs to be answered. Does the competition matter to the average Philadelphia Union fan? The answer to that is likely no. For the fourth-round game against Harrisburg City Islanders, whom the side has played basically every year in the competition, there will not be a lot of fans at the game. Honestly, there might not be a lot of fans attending the next two rounds of games outside of a possible matchup with Cincinnati. That said the competition is no joke, with the place in the standings the Philadelphia Union find themselves in it is still their best option at playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. This is important as the competition can only bring better things to the team in the future.
That said the Open Cup should be a gateway to more soccer in Philadelphia. More intrigue in the city for the team that many people still think is a joke. When a team wins a single trophy that can put them on the path to win more. It can propel a squad to more success and an Open Cup trophy could begin a playoff push for the Philadelphia Union that sees them do well and move on further than ever before. Beyond that, the team can use this to help convince players to come here, youth players to sign with the team, and more fans to join, and that will only help the future of the team.