FOR RESURGENT UNION, WAS LOSS IN OPEN CUP SEMIFINAL FOR THE BETTER?
|(Times staff / ROBERT J. GURECKI)|
Their 2-0 semifinal loss to Sporting Kansas City was filled with fouls, bookings and intrigue.
“It sucks to lose," Jack McInerney said, "but we have such a young team. We're only halfway through the season and the goal has to be to get into the playoffs."
Captain Carlos Valdes (pictured) and the Union got shoved around plenty. They took their knocks and, even though Union interim manager John Hackworth said he doesn't want to pin blame for the defeat on his club's fatigue, it's difficult to mask that the Union were run down. They're playing nine matches in 27 days, including next week's friendly against Aston Villa.
So, considering the resurgent nature of the Union and their attempt to climb the MLS standings, maybe dropping the Open Cup semifinal wasn't the worst thing in the world. Good luck trying to pry those words from any of the players' mouths, but there's an argument to be made there.
Consider their next five matches: v. Montreal (8th in East), at New York (3rd in East), v. New England (6th in East), at Montreal, v. Chicago (4th in East). World-beaters, those teams are not. This would be as good a time as any for the Union to make their push.
"I think the first game, (SKC) thought they were going to step on the pitch and win the game (a 4-0 Union win June 23) just by stepping out there," said Michael Lahoud. "This time, they played what they were designed to do – scrappy and found a way to win. In this tournament, that's what gets it done and that's what got it done for them tonight."
OKUGO A STARTER AT CENTERBACK?
Amobi Okugo, who's already on the fast track to establishing career-bests in games played, games started and minutes played, could be in line for the full-time starter's job at centerback.
Okugo, who played all 90 minutes against SKC, got rave reviews afterward from Hackworth --- who said injured centerback Bakary Soumare, who the Union signed earlier this month inside the transfer window, isn't a lock to start when healthy.
“Amobi was fantastic again and when a player's playing like that, there's no way that you're going to replace him," Hackworth said. "Hopefully Baki gets back sooner and that'll be some tough decisions. Crazy things already happened with injury or another long stretch of games here. It's good to have that depth."
A defensive midfielder, Okugo was viewed as a stop-gap centerback at first when Danny Califf was traded in May. Since, he's started and played all 90 in each of the Union's last five MLS matches. Okugo has played nine games with six being starts, for 610 minutes. His career-best totals were achieved last year, when he logged 15 appearances with 10 starts for 811 minutes.
Couple more odds and ends...
- Long after the final whistle, McInerney was seen walking off the pitch at PPL Park holding a cardboard-cutout replica of the U.S. Open Cup. According to one Tweeter, a young girl gave McInerney her homemade souvenir. What a cool gesture.
- The Union were whistled for four yellow cards and 21 fouls, to SKC's two bookings and 17 fouls. Wouldn't be the first time some folks in Chester were shouting about cheatin'. (Just ask the kids who play basketball at Chester High.)
- Not sure who had the hook-up, but Sporting Kansas City was booming some Jay-Z/Kanye West out of the visitors' dressing room. Usually, the Union's opponents don't play music. But winning an Open Cup semifinal must be different.