HOUSTON — After the Philadelphia Union conceded the third of three goals in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final, centerback Auston Trusty hung his head in his heads in a bent-over position for more than a minute.
When Trusty finally moved upright, goalkeeper Andre Blake pushed him forward with the ball already placed at the center circle for a restart.
Trusty’s misfortune on his 65th-minute own goal was a perfect representation of a night with high hopes that went south almost immediately.
“The third goal just sums up our defensive night,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “You have to execute your chances and not get punished defensively and we got punished defensively tonight.”
While there are countless reasons why the Union fell in their third Open Cup final in five years, the simple answer is they just didn’t have it on a night in which their best, and then some, was expected.
A wide range of emotions were experienced before, during and after Wednesday’s game, and the Union’s leaders sat postgame in frustration and disappointment.
The frustration started in the third minute, when Fafa Picault was ruled offside for heading a ball into the back of the net.
Less than 60 seconds later, the Union were stuck questioning what exactly happened, as Houston’s Mauro Manotas slipped through the defense and netted the first of his two goals.
“It wasn’t even a solid ball played across and they still capitalized,” Bedoya said. “Tonight that’s what happened. We got punished on defensive errors and Houston’s holding the trophy.”
The second goal was even more maddening, as a few defensive movements would’ve stopped Manotas from slithering through the Union back line and slotting a perfect shot into the bottom-left corner of the net.
The Union’s unacceptable defending throughout the night was the most pertinent of a set of baffling occurrences that added up to the most lopsided defeat of the three U.S. Open Cup finals in franchise history.
Cory Burke, the striker who rose out of obscurity from the team’s United Soccer League affiliate Bethlehem Steel, couldn’t find the magic touch in front of goal he had most of the season.
Trusty, the unflappable 20-year-old first-year starter, and Jack Elliott, whose path to the starting lineup is as unlikely as a fourth-round draft pick, produced unusually rough performances.
Borek Dockal, who has turned into a great find on loan from the Chinese Super League, was bottled up by Houston’s combination of Juan David Cabezas and Boniek Garcia.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team,” Curtin said. “As hard as it is to lose a final, it doesn’t dismiss the entire work that’s been done this season. It’s still a very good Open Cup run. It doesn’t end the way we want. Only one team is happy at the end of this thing.
“Everybody has to stick together, and in the hard moments. We have a couple of mistakes all over the field tonight. Every player made a mistake tonight. There were spots where there were mistakes where we weren’t strong enough. Credit to Houston on the night. Over the course of 90 minutes, they outplayed us.”
Everything that seemed to go in the Union’s favor during the regular season and the Open Cup run magically disappeared and reignited the anger and disappointment the club’s fans are used to feeling.
“We’re having a great season,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “We’re fighting on both ends, Open Cup and reaching the playoffs. It’s very difficult when you’re fighting on both ends. You spend a lot of energy, but I think we have a lot of good players and a good team. It’s tough when you lose a final like that because I think we were a better team. The better team doesn’t always win. They created chances and scored immediately. It’s what we didn’t do today.”
For some successful teams, a final loss would serve as motivation to finish off the season strong, but the Union didn’t do so in 2014 and 2015, as they won two of their combined nine games post-Open Cup.
This season’s overall performance suggests the failures of the past are somewhat in the rear view mirror, but until proven wrong, the trust issues between the club and its fans about being successful will linger with the stench of defeat in major games.
“One night, one game doesn’t make or break somebody and it’s certainly not going to break us,” Bedoya said. “We got a good locker room, a good group of guys. We might have our heads down tonight, but I expect everybody tomorrow morning to get in there and be in good spirits and look forward to Columbus.”