Union falls in U.S. Open Cup final

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Philadelphia Union goalkeeper John McCarthy (55) reacts after loosing to Sporting KC in the U.S. Open Cup championship game at PPL Park. Sporting KC won on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie.

PHILADELPHIA Union manager Jim Curtin could not have made a bolder or more daring gamble.

With the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup moments from being decided by penalty kicks, Curtin used his last substitution to replace goalkeeper Andre Blake with John McCarthy.

It was highly unusual for a manager to place a cold goalkeeper into such a high-pressure situation and it certainly wasn't the safest choice to make. Not that it had anything to do with McCarthy, but Curtin's guts were not rewarded with any glory.

In the eighth round of penalty kicks, Jordi Quintilla scored on McCarthy and Sporting Kansas City won the Open Cup, 7-6, after the teams played to a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes at PPL Park last night.

In the end, it wasn't about the saves that McCarthy did not make, but rather the ones that Sporting KC keeper Tim Melia did.

In the third round, Melia stopped a shot by Union captain Maurice Edu that had neither pace nor placement.

Then, McCarthy kept the Union even by saving a kick by Krisztian Nemeth.

The teams matched goals until Melia stopped another poor attempt, this one from the Union's Andrew Wenger.

It's impossible to say what Blake may have done in penalty kicks, but seven of the eight kicks by Sporting Kansas City were almost perfect.

McCarthy stopped the only attempt on which he had a chance.

"It was something I had thought all week," Curtin said of subbing in McCarthy. "We figured if it got to around the 120 mark, I was thinking about doing it.

"It was a gut feeling. The players on the field were OK with it. Andre was OK with it.

"John is special on penalty kicks. He shows it in training every day. We went with it, and on another night it works."

It wasn't déjà vu all over again for the Union but it was about as close as it could get.

For the second year in a row, the Union had the Open Cup final at home.

For the second year in a row, the Union scored first only to surrender that lead and go on to lose.

Last year, Seattle Sounders FC hoisted the Open Cup in front of disappointed Union fans with a 3-1 victory in overtime.

This time it was Sporting Kansas City.

It started so promising as the Union struck first on a goal by Sebastien Le Toux - the leading scorer in the modern era of the Open Cup.

After Fabinho did some nifty ball work to keep possession along the left sideline, he made a short pass to Vincent Nogueira.

The Frenchman sent a long probing pass into the Kansas City box toward his countryman.

Le Toux outraced a Kansas City defender to the ball and fired a low drive by Melia.

But the Union has a history of not being able to get insurance goals and once again it bit them as Nemeth tied the game in the 65th minute.

"When we had them scrambling a little in the first half, it's critical to get that second goal," Curtin said.

After losing in 1977 NBA Finals, the 76ers adopted the motto "We Owe You One." It was a promise to their fans to get the championship they missed out on.

The Sixers ultimately delivered, but it took until 1983.

The Union didn't want to wait that long. They dubbed their drive to the 2015 Open Cup final game as "Unfinished Business."

The return to the Cup final gave the Union a quick chance at redemption but the business remains unfinished.

The Union again failed to win the franchise's first piece of silverware.

With the chances of making the Major League Soccer playoffs virtually non-existent, the Union is out of contention for the MLS Cup.

The Open Cup does not have the clout of the MLS Cup, but it is the oldest club tournament in the United States.

It is one of the two trophies available to a United States-based franchise.

Winning the Open Cup would have provided a salve for which will now be another completely lost season.

"It hurts," Curtin said. "We had the final at home in front of our fans. I love my guys. I want them to experience the feeling of lifting a trophy together.

"Hearing (Sporting Kansas City) cheering makes me want to throw up. That's how it goes sometimes. My players were great. They gave everything.

"If anyone wants to find someone to blame, I'm right here."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com