FRISCO - Coming into Tuesday’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal at Toyota Stadium, the only game either side had lost since May 31 was Philadelphia’s 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on July 4, so it was only fitting the two sides played a match that neither deserved to lose.
There had to be a winner, however, and after 120 tense and hard-fought minutes of play that produced a 1-1 draw, Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath was the hero saving two PKs as the visitors advanced to host the 101st Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final.
“We emptied ourselves. The players did on the field and that’s something that I’m very proud of,” said an emotional Oscar Pareja after Tuesday’s match. “They left everything on the field really. It was one of those performances that encouraged you and made you feel not just proud but honored to belong to this club and this group of players.”
Indeed it was a heroic effort from a Dallas side that was behind the eight ball after halftime. A rash of injuries saw Pareja forced to use all three substitutions by the time the second half was underway. After going down to a 47th minute goal by Amobi Okugo, it would’ve been easy for Dallas to pack it in, but after some hard work and another steal, Fabian Castillo equalized the match in the 81st minute sending the crowd of more than 4,000 at Toyota Stadium into a roar that would’ve rivaled a sold out crowd.
“It was beautiful,” Pareja said of the goal. “I saw those last ten minutes and the rest of the extra time with an atmosphere here in the park that I hadn’t seen before so that was awesome. The stadium wasn’t full but I was proud of the fans. “
Proud of the fans and proud of the team was Pareja who gave quote after quote of praise for his side in a press conference that lasted until well after all his players had left the locker room, perhaps by design.
“This is the group that I want to coach and the group that I dreamed to coach one day,” said Pareja. “Tonight I was very pleased and the game gave me the opportunity to coach this group of players and my dream came true. This is the heart that I want to see in the organization in games. I love it.”
As for Saturday’s Western Conference showdown at San Jose, there’s no doubt tonight will have taken plenty out of his side who will have to deal with the fallout of potential injuries to key players, but like everything else this season, Pareja will take it in stride while teaching the lessons to his young team.
“We have a couple days to refuel again, but there is some fundamentals here that are there so I’m not worried about it…the heart is there so I’m not worried about it.”