CHESTER, Pa— The U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 draw produced another familiar matchup for the Philadelphia Union, who play the New York Red Bulls for the fourth year in a row in the competition Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.
While the matchup with the Red Bulls, who the Union usually play three times in the Major League Soccer regular season, feels a little redundant, it still presents the club with a chance to advance in the competition and move one step closer to a trophy.
“You can’t hide anymore,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “Everybody knows how they play, we know how they play. It’s difficult when you play the same opponent all the time, especially in one year you play a team three or four times. There’s no surprise anymore.
“It’s always going to be a tough game. It’s a derby here, so it’s a competition you can win the cup. In five to six games you can win a trophy. It’s important for us, and if we win, we play again at home. So it’s going to be fast, and maybe we can play all the games at home. We’re going to do our best and hopefully we win.”
Union captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said it’s a game they’re taking seriously.
“Obviously at this point in time it’s a chance for us to win a trophy,” Bedoya said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to have our first team out there and they’ll have most of their first team. It’s another chance for us to advance in the U.S. Open Cup and it’s a chance at a trophy.”
For experienced players on the Union roster, like Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya, the Open Cup differs from other domestic cup competitions they’ve participated in.
Medunjanin played in the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and Israel before coming over to the United States to play for the Union in 2017, and he’s been involved in plenty of heated cup contests.
“Even in Spain the cup games are very important,” Medunjanin said. “Maybe the bench guys play the first round because you’re playing a third or fourth league team, but after that the first team always play the cup games because they see it as very serious.”
“Even Israel is competitive because when you play at a big team in Israel it’s a big deal if you win the league and the cup,” Medunjanin said.
Bedoya featured for clubs in Sweden, Scotland and France, and his time at Nantes produced incredible cup memories that still put a smile on the midfielder’s face.
The U.S. Men’s National Team player scored back-to-back game-winning goals for Nantes during the 2016 Coupe de France against Mantes and Bordeaux.
“(Mantes) was right outside of Paris and it went into overtime and I came off the bench, my hair is going crazy, my headband wasn’t working, this is when I had long hair, “Bedoya said. “I literally came on and with my first touch of the game I got the ball in behind and scored a goal. That’s probably my best cup moment.”
“In France away against Bordeaux, it was one of those 1-0, they came back up 2-1, then we tied it 2-2, then we went 3-2 in overtime and they we scored again 3-3,” Bedoya said. “I came off the bench and I had missed a great chance earlier to get the lead and then close to the end of the game off a free kick or corner kick I got on the end of it with a header. I played maybe 20 minutes in the cup, but it was in extra time and it made the difference and we won 4-3. Cups are always interesting.”
Another interesting aspect of Bedoya’s cup experience in France was a 2015 Coupe de France opener against Club Franciscain from Martinique, a Caribbean nation under the jurisdiction of the French Football Federation.
“With the States being so large, I guess they have to set it up differently but I remember in the Cup in France we had to play a team from Martinique,” Bedoya said. “They flew all the way up to France so that was a unique experience.”
“Maybe they should open (the Open Cup) up a little bit, but then again, these small teams don’t have the budgets,” Bedoya said. “It’ll be very hard to make it happen. I’m not going to get into opening up the system, but I would’ve liked to play maybe play a team from California or Texas, a small team. I’m sure it’d be cool for them too to travel far and away and see other things. It is what it is. It’s still a chance for a lot of teams and players to do something.”
While the Union have had their share of historic Open Cup moments, the competition still has some work to do to compare to those overseas.
“You always have some outsiders from the third or fourth league that come in the final,” Medunjanin said. “Here the MLS teams are much stronger than the USL teams, but still you see a couple of USL teams make it so it’s always a tough competition. I don’t have the feeling that the cup here is the same like in Europe.”