If it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Union’s rousing win at the Chicago Fire last week one of the biggest games of the season, the same could be said for their U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against Orlando City.
The Open Cup annually gives teams a second chance at winning a trophy. And for teams that aren’t likely to compete for the MLS Cup title (such as the Union), it can count as a first chance. A win Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m., live video on the team’s website) would put the Union in the semifinals for the first time in three years.
That isn’t a trophy in and of itself, but it means they’ll still have a shot.
“There’s more pressure, no question about it, because one mistake can kind of determine your fate,” Union manager Jim Curtin said.
There’s also pressure from the game being eminently winnable. Orlando has had a disastrous summer, losing nine straight league games before edging Toronto FC on Saturday. The Lions fired coach Jason Kreis six games into that streak, and new boss James O’Connor has only started to put his stamp on the team.
O’Connor benched veteran goalkeeper Joe Bendik and midfielder Justin Meram for the Toronto game. More moves might be forced Wednesday, as Orlando will play Saturday at the Columbus Crew, then will host New York City FC the following Thursday.
There’s only so much that can be gleaned from film of O’Connor’s two games in charge, but Curtin said he has seen some changes.
“You see a team that, where maybe before, it looked like five attacked and five defended, … everyone is attacking and everyone is defending,” Curtin said.
On Saturday, Curtin played mostly reserves in the exhibition friendly win over Eintracht Frankfurt. All of his starters will be available Wednesday night, except for injured winger Ilsinho.
“We have a fresh team, we’re at home,” Curtin said, “so we have some confidence within our group to high press, do the things we’re good at at home, and take care of business.”
That confidence is carried especially by David Accam, after he finally delivered his first goal and assist for the Union. Accam’s drive has rarely been in doubt, but he took it to a higher level when he charged down the field to score a 95th-minute game-winner.
“He had the mindset of [bleep] it, I’m going myself … and he was rewarded for it,” Curtin said.
More such courage could bring the entire team more rewards.
Union vs. Orlando City U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal
Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
How the Union got here: Beat the USL’s Richmond Kickers at home in the fourth round; beat the New York Red Bulls at home in the round of 16
How Orlando got here: Beat the NPSL’s Miami United on the road in the fourth round; beat D.C. United on the road in the quarterfinals.
Series history: Union — 3 wins, Orlando — 3 wins, 2 ties
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union — 3 wins, Orlando — 2 wins, 0 ties
In the Open Cup: First meeting
Orlando players to watch
F Dom Dwyer: He’s most-often described as a pest, and it’s a compliment. The former U.S. national team striker is fast, physical, and shoots fast and often.
M Chris Mueller: Union fans might remember him for scoring one of the goals in Orlando’s win in Chester in April. The University of Wisconsin-bred rookie has continued to play well since then, with three goals and four assists on the season.