FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union
2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Semifinals
August 11, 2014, 9 pm ET
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
The first of two 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinals kicks off Tuesday evening (9 pm ET) as FC Dallas play host to the Philadelphia Union, with a home game in the final against either the Seattle Sounders or the Chicago Fire on the line.
The two teams will be switching focus from the playoff hunt, where both currently sit above the red line, but that's unlikely to mean they'll be rotating the reserves in for this one. With two wins standing between them and a trophy, and the importance both teams have placed on this competition, a star-laden battle is on the cards.
DALLAS ON A ROLL: FC Dallas are playing as well as any team in MLS right now, riding a eight-game unbeaten streak with a 5-0-3 record, and that's without a fully fit Mauro Diaz. That strong form and status as the home team will set them up as favorites for this one.
The return to form has coincided with the return of Fabian Castillo from suspension (though Dallas were doing well even without him) and the emergence of Young DP acquisition Andres Escobar, and the pair's speed down the flanks should cause Philadelphia plenty of headaches. Though his four-game ban for making contact with a match official will be a blot on an otherwise terrific season, it does little to discourage the notion that Castillo has been one of the most exciting players to watch in MLS this year, and is often worth the price of admission on his own.
MR. OPEN CUP: The Philadelphia Union remain one of the bigger mysteries of MLS heading into the stretch run, but there's no mystery about their approach to the US Open Cup, where they have made their second semifinal in three years since the tournament scrapped the qualification process for MLS teams.
That's in part due to the exploits of Sebastien Le Toux, who recently took hold of the all-time scoring record in the Open Cup's modern era, and has been the model of consistency when wearing a Union shirt. Between his time in Seattle and Philadelphia, he as much as anyone grasps the importance of the tournament and possesses the ability to decide such an important game.
However, Le Toux's status for the game is still very much up in the air after suffering a late kick in the Union's 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday that saw the Frenchman's ankle taped and iced after the game. The Union have enough depth in attack that there's not too much dropoff in quality, but a player of Le Toux's pedigree in this tournament could be a huge miss at this stage.
FRESH LEGS NEEDED? Le Toux isn't the only key player that's a fitness doubt for Tuesday; Diaz has returned from a two-month injury layoff, but hasn't played more than 54 minutes in any of the games he's been back, and has no goals or assists in that time. If the FC Dallas playmaker can't go 90 on Tuesday, which is looking like it will be the case, it will be a a definite development in favor of the Union.
Philly have their own fitness issues to worry about, though, and it's not so much the individual players as it is managing a busy schedule. Already dealing with a quick turnaround from their weekend game, they will again be faced with short rest when they head down to Houston for a Friday night game against the Dynamo (9 pm ET; NBCSN, free strean on NBCSports.com, TSN2 in Canada).
“We have a deep squad now if you look the bench, we have hundreds and hundreds of games of experience, so that’s a positive to come in and close out games,” Union interim head coach Jim Curtin said. “There’s competition in training like you wouldn’t believe for spots right now. We have a crowded group and people forget about Cristian Maidana so again he’s coming back and he will be close for Tuesday.”
TROPHY HUNT: The chance to play for a trophy is enough to motivate anyone, but a trip to the final would be extra special for Dallas. The winner of this match will host the final, meaning if they win, FCD would have a chance to play for the trophy named after legendary founder and Texas sports pioneer Lamar Hunt, whose family still operates the team and played a key role in the construction of the stadium.