The Philadelphia Union advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final with a 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night.
The victory was the third for Jim Curtin’s club over the Fire this season, with the other two coming in league play.
Philadelphia faces the Houston Dynamo in the championship match on September 26 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Here are the three takeaways from the Union’s semifinal triumph over their Eastern Conference rivals.
1. Union Defense Shuts Down Nikolic, Schweinsteiger
The Union clogged up the middle of the field over the course of 90 minutes, as they limited the chances created by Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
While Schweinsteiger was on the ball throughout the night, he never looked dangerous in the final third because of the logjam created by midfielder Haris Medunjanin and center backs Auston Trusty and Jack Elliott.
Nikolic struggled a lot more in the final third, as the Fire forward failed to make any type of impact as the visitors attempted to respond to the Union’s bevy of scoring opportunities.
Elliott received plenty of praise for the performance he turned in, as he replaced the injured Mark McKenzie in the starting 11.
“So today, credit to Jack, he hasn’t played in a while and holding down the defense with trusty and not allowing Nikolic to really do much, and we stopped their midfielders from really getting any real chances on goal,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It was a whole team effort, and that’s what it has to take.”
“They just need to play with confidence,” Medunjanin said. “They are good center backs. You see Jack, he hasn’t played for a long time, and he comes in and he played like a starter. He needs to be ready, it doesn’t matter when, to step up and he did tonight.”
“Trusty, I think he can still do better because I believe in him, he has the potential,” Medunjanin said. “Sometimes I shout at him and curse him out because I know he can do better. Sometimes he loses two easy balls and that’s impossible if you have so much time.”
2. Containment of Edwards Leads to More Defensive Success
The center backs weren’t the only Union defenders to achieve success on Wednesday night, as Keegan Rosenberry turned in one of his top outings of the season against Raheem Edwards on the left wing.
The right back was positioned well when Edwards darted down the wing in an attempt to stretch the Union back line.
Even when Rosenberry was caught out of position, Elliott slid over to cover for the third-year right back before he got back into position.
The cohesiveness between Rosenberry and Elliott was one of the keys to the game of the Union since Edwards has been one of the few bright spots in the Fire lineup since he was acquired from the Montreal Impact.
If Mark McKenzie is unavailable for Saturday’s trip to New England, the Rosenberry and Elliott need to show the same chemistry against the dynamic attackers the Revolution possess.
3. Union Put Away Game With 2nd & 3rd Goals
It seems like a simple thing, but the Union have had trouble scoring the second and third goals while in the lead.
Instead of letting the Fire stay in the contest, like past opponents at Talen Energy Stadium have, the Union buckled down on defense and created more opportunities in the final third, which led to Cory Burke’s second goal in the 77th minute.
“It’s very important because we get all these chances,” Medunjanin said. “We always need to be ready in front of the goal to score these opportunities and Cory did today. Even in the first half, he had a good header off a cross from Fafa. After that in the second half, he was all over the place.
“(Burke) made us a look better, look stronger and we could always find him,” Medunjanin said. “He scored two great goals because he’s always there in the box. You always need to attack the box and he’s always attacking the box and that’s why he gets a lot of chances and scores a lot of goals. All the credit is to him and the team.”
The Union players were also proud they were able to come out of the locker room and improve on a first half that wasn’t impressive by their standards.
“Yeah, I thought we came in at halftime, and we told each other that the first half wasn’t good enough,” Bedoya said. “We expected a lot more. It was hot as hell, though, too, so that probably had something to do with it. We knew we had to do better and I knew that I had to do better myself. I wasn’t getting enough of the ball in the first half, the way they play man-marking you all over the field, so I just tried to find the ball a bit more and making those late runs into the box, just try to get into spots in the box and be dangerous. I’m happy that we got the result that we needed today to get to the final.”
Now the focus shifts toward executing the same things Saturday in a match with Eastern Conference playoff implications at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s very important because you want to be in the playoffs. You have a chance to be in spot five if you beat New England,” Medunjanin said. “We are fighting for that and it’s a big opportunity for us. We need to leave this behind us and focus tomorrow on New England because they are a very good team.”