Forgive the Philadelphia Union for being really, really excited this morning.
Late last night, in the blistering Texas heat, three days after one league game and three days before another, the Union survived 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time against an FC Dallas team they had never before beaten, before dominating the shootout to advance to the 2014 U.S. Open Cup final.
The first-ever title game in the Union’s five-year history will be held on Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at PPL Park against the winner of tonight’s Seattle-Chicago semifinal contest.
Now, we know it’s probably hard for some people to grasp the importance of tournament that’s played during the MLS regular season, especially when games aren’t on TV and aren’t usually sold out.
But trust us when we say this is a big deal. The U.S. Open Cup is over 100 years old, gives the smallest teams in the country the chance to beat the biggest (a la March Madness), is one of just two trophies MLS teams can win, and is always packed with some cool moments.
Tuesday’s game might have provided us with one of the coolest. Faced with an uncertain future that includes being benched whenever new signing Rais Mbolhi declares himself ready (no one knows for sure why this hasn’t happened yet), Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath could have very easily mentally checked out.
"I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it." -Charles R. Swindoll— Zac MacMath (@ZacMacMath) August 13, 2014
Instead, he’s handled his lame duck status like an ultimate professional, leading Philly to a point on the road against the defending champs and a win this past Saturday against Montreal, before stopping two – two! – penalty kicks in Tuesday’s shootout to keep the Union’s quest for their first trophy alive.
Keep in mind, penalty kicks are really, really hard for goalkeepers. It’s impressive to even stop one. But heading into the shootout, the Union were confident that MacMath would come up big, with midfielder Amobi Okugo saying that, “We knew that if we made ours, he would at least get one.”
The Union indeed made theirs, with Sheanon Williams, Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana and Maurice Edu doing the honors while their top PK man – Sebastien Le Toux – was on the bench. And MacMath made nice stops on Blas Perez and Victor Ulloa to set off a wild celebration on the field.
The celebration then continued into the visiting locker room, with shouting, selfies and even some Brazilian dancing.
Just imagine what it will be like with another win in the middle of September.