On Wednesday night at PPL Park the Philadelphia Union host the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final for the second year running, this time facing Sporting Kansas City after falling 3-1 to Seattle in 2014.
With last season’s disappointment still fresh Philadelphia are fully motivated as they pursue the first ever honors in club history.
At the other end of the spectrum Sporting KC are chasing the third U.S. Open Championship in franchise history, seeking to add to titles won in 2012 and 2004 the latter as the Kansas City Wizards.
A win on Wednesday would be a third trophy in four years for SKC, adding to that 2012 U.S Open Cup title and the 2013 MLS Cup.
Philadelphia will have the home field advantage in Chester, Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening, but Sporting KC will hardly be intimidated.
Despite making the move before the season to the Western Conference, generally acknowledged as the tougher of the two league conferences, fifth place Sporting are in the thick of a tight playoff battle, while ninth place Philadelphia are all but eliminated in the East. SKC have compiled 45 points, 11 more than the Union and have outscored Philly 45 to 39 while boasting a plus four goals difference, far easier on the eye than the Union’s minus nine.
Union coach Jim Curtin also has to navigate a potentially divisive goalkeeper controversy involving John McCarthy, who has backstopped the Union through all four wins to get back to the final and Andre Blake, the presumptive future number one, who starred with 10 saves in Saturday’s 1-1 tie in New England.
It may be hard for Curtin to turn away from McCarthy, given that the local product won two penalty kick shootouts while conceding just twice from play in the Union’s four game journey to the finals.
Sporting had a much different trip to Chester, following a 1-0 opening win by beating FC Dallas 6-2 before going on to top the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake with a pair of 3-1 victories.
KC also have goalkeeping questions, with regular starter TIm Melia hobbled by a hamstring injury. If Melia can’t go Peter Vermes will turn to Jon Kempin.
With his squad well rested Vermes should have the rest of his first team available. Benny Feilhaber has been the best American midfielder in MLS for two years now, and even if that is not enough to earn a look from the U.S. MNT, Feilhaber will be tough for the Union to contain with the Dewars Cup on the line.
Dom Dwyer leads SKC with 11 goals, one ahead of Feilhaber who also has 14 assists on his ledger. Matt Besler is back in form and leads the defense.
For the second year in a row Philadelphia have rallied for the Cup, playing far better in the national knockout tournament than during the MLS regular season.
Captain Maurice Edu is back after missing time with a groin injury and the Philadelphia defense should be stronger for his presence.
Former KC man C.J. Sapong leads Philadelphia with nine goals and would surely love to bag one or two versus his old team on Wednesday.
Curtin will be trying to tap into team’s Cup spirit versus Kansas City, who are objectively the superior team. With the playoffs all but out of the picture Philadelphia can leave it all out on the PPL Park pitch on Wednesday night, while KC will have to a take a more measured approach with the playoffs still up in the air.
Kansas City have plenty to play for too, but with nothing else on its docket, Philadelphia’s trophy drought may just come to an end Wednesday evening in front of its home fans.