By FRANCO PANIZO
CHESTER, Pa. — There has been no better forward duo in MLS in recent weeks than Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, and the two Seattle Sounders veterans combined wonderfully again on Tuesday.
The only difference was that this time it led to some silverware.
Seattle collected the fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title in club history on Tuesday night, defeating the Philadelphia Union, 3-1, behind a pair of extra-time goals from Dempsey and Martins in a thrilling tournament final at PPL Park.
“At the end of the day, people want to win championships and people want to win trophies,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “That’s the attitude that we have in our locker room and that’s the attitude we’ve always approached the Open Cup with.”
Dempsey finished off a Martins pass for the game-winner in the 101st minute, and the Nigerian striker, who entered the game at the hour-mark, put the game out of reach six minutes before the final whistle.
Philadelphia initially took the lead in front of the 15,256 fans in attendance thanks to a well-taken header from Maurice Edu in the first half, but could not find the back of the net again despite having a bevy of chances and ran out of gas as the match wore on.
“I’ve never been proud of anything in my life that ended in a loss before. This is the first time,” said Union interim head coach Jim Curtin. “I thought our guys put a ton into it. … Seattle is a great team, Seattle is the best team in our league. I thought we went toe-to-toe with them, I thought we could’ve stole a win there, but I was proud of our group.”
Some solid goalkeeping from Stefan Frei and bad luck combined to keep the Union at bay, with midfielder Vincent Nogueira missing an especially good look to put the hosts ahead when he smacked the post with a half-volley in the first minute of second-half stoppage time with the score level at 1-1.
The match was open from the start, but the Union wasted an early lead. Chad Barrett, who was replaced by Martins in the 60th minute, scored two minutes after halftime off a rebound to inject the Sounders with some much-needed life.
A poor clearance by Philadelphia centerback Carlos Valdes allowed that sequence to happen, as Sounders defender Chad Marshall headed the ball with force on frame. MacMath saved it, but Barrett nodded it home with ease from a foot out to negate Edu’s 38th-minute opener.
“They were a tough team and we knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Schmid. “In games like this, every team gets chances and at the end – I think I said the day before the game – it’s going to come down to which team finishes their chances but both teams would get chances.
“That’s the way it turned out.”
Schmid’s side poured on the pressure for the 20 minutes that followed Barrett’s leveler, but MacMath parried Brad Evans’ 70th-minute effort and Dempsey’s outstretched right foot was unable to direct a hard Marco Pappa cross on frame from in close six minutes later.
The Union overcame the Sounders onslaught and ended the half with a surge of energy, but failed to punish the Sounders. Ray Gaddis had a good-looking chance in the 88th minute deflected into the path of a wide open Pedro Ribeiro, whose ensuing shot from the left side of the penalty area was too close to Frei.
Nogueira was then agonizingly denied of a heroic winner by the post in the first minute of stoppage time, forcing Curtin to lead the side who he is hoping to coach on a full-time basis into 30 extra minutes.
With the rowdy crowd pushing the hosts on, Philadelphia seemed to have the advantage until Dempsey struck late in the first half of extra time. Dempsey slipped a pass ahead to Martins, who drew the attention of three defenders and played a pass back to the wide open Dempsey for a cool finish.
“He moved inside, I just tried to get open, he played the ball to me and I decided to try and take it one-time,” said Dempsey. “I got a good shot on it and it went near post.”
The Sounders nearly put the game out of reach four minutes later as the Union began to show signs of fatigue, but Pappa’s superb effort from the top of the 18-yard box was thwarted by the crossbar.
It made no difference, as Martins’ solo run and lofted finish in the 114th minute sealed the deal for the Sounders and gave them the U.S. Open Cup trophy.
“We’ve talked about trying to win the U.S. Open Cup, trying to win the Supporters’ Shield and try to win the MLS Cup,” said Dempsey. “It’s just one step and we’ve got two things more that we’re trying to accomplish, but it feels good.”
What do you think of the Sounders winning the U.S. Open Cup final over the Union? How impressed were you by Dempsey and Martins? Do you see Curtin keeping the head-coaching job in Philadelphia after this loss?
Share your thoughts below.