A playoff spot is all but locked up for the Philadelphia Union (14-12-4), who have an 11-point lead in the standings with just four matches left to play in the regular season. A win this weekend over the Columbus Crew (13-9-8) would clinch their third playoff trip in franchise history.
But for the moment, the team has something else on their minds.
On Wednesday night, the Union will take on the Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final. Runners-up in 2014 and 2015, a lot of players on this Union team have played on this stage before and have felt the agony of defeat.
In 2014, it was a 3-1 defeat in extra time by the Seattle Sounders at Talen Energy Stadium. In 2015, the Union lost 7-6 in penalty kicks to Sporting Kansas City.
The club hopes to erase the past and accomplish something that hasn’t yet been done for the franchise – bring home some hardware.
“I hope we can go into Houston with a lot of confidence,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “We’ve already beaten them once there [on July 25]. So why not again and bring back our first trophy for the club?”
Ironically, the Union are riding a two-game win streak over the very same teams who downed them in the previous finals.
They beat the Sounders 1-0 on Wednesday and Sporting KC 2-0 on Sunday to pick up six crucial points in the Eastern Conference standings. Everything seems to be aligning for the Union at the right time and they hope to ride the high into Wednesday.
“This group deserves to be champions,” Union defender Fabinho said. “We know how hard we work every day, everybody. We deserve to be champions on Wednesday and we are ready for this game.”
In their 3-1 win over the Dynamo on July 25, it was Bedoya, Fafa Picault and Cory Burke who were able to find the back of the net for the Union. Goaltender Andre Blake had four saves on five shots.
With the prior result in the back of their minds, there’s a different energy around the clubhouse this time.
“I feel different this year,” Fabinho said. “I don’t know why, I can’t say how or why, but I feel different. I feel like we’ll be the champions, you know what I mean? I know the game will be very tough, I know Houston has a good team.”
Wednesday’s match will air at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.