Coin toss means Union could lift trophy on home turf

Coin toss means Union could lift trophy on home turf
August 6, 2014, 1:45 pm

Things have been looking up for the Philadelphia Union in recent weeks. 

On Monday night, that luck extended to the pocket of U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati on a stage in Portland, Ore.

And now, the Union are one win away from playing for the country's most storied soccer trophy on home turf at PPL Park.

Gulati flipped a coin Monday on stage during a special live edition of the popular "Men In Blazers" podcast, which is on location in Portland for this week's Major League Soccer All-Star Game against Bayern Munich. On stage with him were representatives from the four remaining semifinalists, including Union midfielder and MLS All-Star Maurice Edu. 

skip to the 50:00 mark or so

The toss decided who would host the final of the U.S. Open Cup, which will likely take place on one of three dates: Sept. 16, Sept 17 or Oct. 1. 

The winning side of the coin represented the Union vs. FC Dallas semifinal, which takes place one week from tonight in Frisco, Texas. The winner of that match will host the winner of the Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders match, which is scheduled for the following night. 

The U.S. Open Cup may not get a ton of attention in the general sports sphere, but unlike the rest of the relatively young American soccer world, it has history to rival any country in the world.

And that history is especially strong in this area.

The tournament -- now in its 101st year -- is one of the oldest cup competitions in world soccer. It is a bracket-style knockout tournament open to ANY team in America that is associated with the U.S. Soccer Federation, from Major League Soccer teams like the Union, to lower division teams like the Harrisburg City Islanders, to amateur teams that are made up of weekend warriors. 

The smaller teams start the tournament early in the year, while MLS teams earn a few byes and join the fray in the third round. Click here for the full bracket

While the Union have never reached the U.S. Open Cup final in their short existence, the tournament has been around here before. According to thecup.us, there have been 10 U.S. Open Cup finals in the Philadelphia area, including nine that featured Philly-area teams

The first of those finals came in the tournament's second year -- 1915 -- and featured Bethlehem Steel, which beat Brooklyn Celtic, 3-1. 

That history is why the Union have been wearing their special black Bethlehem Steel throwback kits for their three Open Cup wins so far this year against Harrisburg, the New York Cosmos, and New England Revolution. 

The tournament is completely separate from the MLS season, which continues alongside it and can present plenty of headaches for head coaches like the Union's Jim Curtin.

Due to the Union's strong run of late, they are back in the MLS playoff hunt, which makes Saturday's home match against struggling Montreal a must-win.

But, just 72 hours after the game against Montreal, the Union will have to play in the Dallas heat for a spot in the Open Cup final.

Curtin is in for the biggest challenge of his short tenure this week. Do you rest key players against Montreal and hope you can squeak out a result, then field a full-strength starting XI against FC Dallas? Or do you go all-in against Montreal, and then see who is fit for the game in Dallas?

Recent signings like goalie Rais M'Bolhi and defender Carlos Valdes help the Union's depth, but don't forget that Edu should see at least a few minutes tonight in Portland against Bayern Munich, unless Curtin politely asks All-Star manager Caleb Porter to let Edu rest.

Whatever happens, the Union still need to win in Dallas Tuesday night if they want the chance to hoist a trophy on their home field. Tuesday's match kicks off at 9 p.m. Eastern. It is not televised, but should be available via a live stream on the Union website.