Philadelphia Union's C.J. Sapong and Tranquillo Barnetta

As Sporting KC travels to face the Philadelphia Union in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, I caught up with Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald to preview the match. Live coverage will be available on ESPN2, Univision Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB, and La Grande 1340 AM.


Jonathon Feyerherm: With the Union not going to make the playoffs this season, how big of a match is the Open Cup final for them?


Jonathan Tannenwald: It’s the entire season, and possibly the entire era so far to date. The fan base will use it as a referendum on the ownership group, which has come under increasing pressure over the last year or so because the team has only made the playoffs once and has never won a trophy in its six-year history. A win would end that drought and bring the team some much-needed positive attention.


JF: What’s been the key to the Union’s recent success in Open Cup (while struggling in MLS)?


JT: Well, you have to start with the fact that they take the Open Cup very seriously, and they know it’s a way to rally focus around something positive when the league season is going poorly. In terms of individuals, goalkeeper John McCarthy has delivered a string of terrific performances, including some big penalty kick saves.


JF: How do you see the match-up between Philadelphia’s defense and Sporting KC’s attacking trio of Graham Zusi, Krisztian Nemeth, and Dom Dwyer?


JT: The Union’s defense will certainly have its hands full. I suspect that we will see a back four with Fabinho on the left, Richie Marquez and Maurice Edu in the middle, and Ray Gaddis on the right. That’s an edge to Sporting, especially with Zusi on the wing. Any one-on-one battles between Dwyer and Edu should be fun to watch.


JF: How do you see the midfield battle between the two sides?


JT: Assuming Jim Curtin plays his top lineup – and it certainly seems he will, since he played a lot of reserves on Saturday against New England – I figure we’ll see a five-player midfield, with Michael Lahoud and Vincent Nogueira lining up behind (from left to right) Tranquillo Barnetta, Cristian Maidana and Sébastien Le Toux. Barnetta and Maidana can interchange and likely will at times. They will benefit greatly from Roger Espinoza being suspended, though I think Jim Curtin is right to note that Paulo Nagamura is really good. The question will be whether Nagamura can handle both of them and not just one.


Going the other way, I think the key matchup will be Lahoud vs. Benny Feilhaber. If any one individual matchup decides the game, that could be it.


JF: One player familiar to Sporting KC fans is forward C.J. Sapong. How has he played this season for the Union?


JT: He has had a real renaissance, with nine goals and four assists in 24 games. That’s tied for the most league goals he’s scored in any season in his career – he scored nine in 2012 for SKC.


JF: What are you looking forward to seeing from Wednesday’s match?


JT: I’m thrilled that the Open Cup final is getting major exposure on national television from ESPN2 and Univision Deportes. I know a lot of people have wanted to see the Open Cup get more national exposure. Now it’s happening, and I hope those people tune in and show that the demand is really there.


I’m also excited to watch Peter Vermes, because I think he’s a great coach – perhaps even with U.S. national team potential in the future


JF: What are you expecting to see from the match?


JT: I think Sporting has to be considered the favorite coming in, because they have the better talent and more experience. The Union will have home field advantage and I hope there will be a big crowd, but there hasn’t been too much marketing of the game to the general sports fan base here, so I’m not sure what the atmosphere will be like. As I said above, I think a lot of it is going to come down to that Lahoud vs. Feilhaber matchup.


JF: What are your overall thoughts on the Open Cup and the future of the tournament?


JT: I’ve been a big fan of the Open Cup for many years and I am glad that on the whole, its exposure and recognition have grown in recent times. Obviously, giving a CCL berth to the winner is a big part of that, and I hope that continues. I hope more is done to teach the many new soccer fans in America about the long history of the tournament, because unfortunately, those of us who have followed the sport for longer – teams, the media, longtime fans, etc. - don’t do enough of that.