Penalty Kick in the Dick: 25 Thoughts on the Union’s MLS Cup Comeback and Collapse

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We used to have a saying back in the day – “that’s so Union.” It basically meant “I cannot believe the shit that is happening right now, it defies logic.” The craziest stuff happened to this team with regularity, so we used it often, and now we’re dusting it off again because the U lost MLS Cup on Saturday evening with a former Philly player and Mayfair native in goal for the other team.

Yes, you read that correctly. John McCarthy, who went to La Salle University and played for the Union from 2015 to 2018, came into the cup final when LAFC’s starter, Maxime Crepeau, fractured his leg stopping a late-game breakaway opportunity. Crepeau was carted off while at the same time red carded for a last-man challenge (DOGSO, denial of a goal scoring opportunity), McCarthy came in, the Union scored to go up 3-2, then gave up a horrendous late goal and went on to lose in penalties without converting a single spot kick.

Talk about deflating. It was a kick in the balls of monolithic proportions.

The even more screwed up thing is that McCarthy once played for the Union in a Cup final. This was 2015, when Philly made it to the U.S. Open Cup final at home. Jim Curtin subbed McCarthy on SPECIFICALLY FOR penalty kicks, but the Union lost anyway, and seven years later McCarthy found that elusive success, only this time playing for the other team. It is the most twisted and devious shit you could ever dream of. It would be like the 2022 Eagles losing to Nate Sudfeld in the Super Bowl, in overtime, after Patrick Mahomes goes down injured in the fourth quarter. No joke.

25 thoughts on the game and the evening in general:

  1. I went down to Subaru Park for the watch party. The turnout was fantastic. There had to be eight or nine thousand people there, filling up about 30% of the lower bowl and the entirety of the field between the 18 yard lines. Good on the Union front office for opening the stadium and listening to fan demand after initially putting together a couple of random watch parties in other locations.
  2. Jose “Brujo” Martinez was all over the place. He was responsible for the first two goals and missed a penalty in the shootout. On the first goal, he flubbed a diagonal and gave LAFC the ball in a terrible position, then committed the foul that set up the free kick. On the second goal, he lost his man on a corner kick. Even on the third goal, he couldn’t clear and that gave LAFC the quick throw in. Brujo had some key defensive wins and brought his typical bite to the midfield, but in the game’s biggest moments, he just came up small. Perhaps ironically, his assist on the Union opener was the product of a lame shot, and he launched two more speculative drives that didn’t come off. That’s him in a nutshell – incredibly high highs and disappointingly low lows.
  3. Interesting tactical wrinkle on the first LAFC goal. First, they did a nice job of selling the free kick taker, making us think Carlos Vela was gonna hit it with his left (he had the better angle). Instead, Kellyn Acosta took it, and Jack McGlynn was on the inside of the wall, jumped, ducked his head, and knocked it into his own net. Bad bounces happen, but the thing about walls is that you need psychos out there, guys who don’t mind getting blasted in the face. I don’t know if McGlynn has that dawg in him or not, like it’s undetermined. But Brujo absolutely does, and when you watched the next FK from the same position, he had taken McGlynn’s spot on the wall interior.
  4. The Union came back from 1-0 down and 2-1 down. Say whatever you will about this game, and a choke job, but they also erased two deficits before that happened. These dudes were resilient all year long and just do not quit. Not once did I think LA was gonna hold that early lead, especially not after the way the NYC FC game unfolded.
  5. Jack Elliott should have been nowhere near free kicks in this game. You had McGlynn, Wagner, Glesnes, and Gazdag out there. I don’t need to see Jack hit another FK ever. Plus, he’s too good in the box for scraps and rebounds to waste him over the ball anyway.
  6. We couldn’t hear very well at the stadium, so it was really hard to figure out what happened when Crepeau snapped his leg. It looked really bad in real time, and obviously they didn’t show it, but this dude sacrificed his body and his World Cup to get his club team a trophy. That guy is now a LAFC legend forever. The shots of LA players Face Timing in the hospital? That was really cool.
  7. Cory Burke was injured in that collision and couldn’t finish the game. With the way he was playing, I would not have minded him stepping up and taking a penalty.
  8. LA fans throwing shit at the Union players was ultra lame. If that happened here we’d never hear the end of it.
  9. THAT BEING SAID – that’s a better overall fan base than what the Chargers or Rams are pulling in LA right now.
  10. Gareth Bale denying the Union a championship would be the most ridiculous thing you could have tweeted 5 or 10 years ago. Even typing that sentence now is comically fucked up. That’s so Union.
  11. I really can’t put a lot of blame on Elliott for the third goal. The guy just played his ass off for more than 120 minutes. He scored two goals for Christ’s sake. Yeah, he’s 6’6″ or whatever, but dude was running on empty and just didn’t seem to have much lift there against a guy who had been on the field for what, less than 25 minutes? Plus, the Union got beat to the endline on a quick throw and funky touch, and Elliott was in position for a low cross, not something loopy like that.
  12. Daniel Gazdag hadn’t missed a penalty all year long. So of course he goes out, slips, and boots the ball to Pasadena. Sad way to end his amazing season.
  13. Martinez should have been nowhere near the top of the penalty order. I would have gone anywhere but to him at #2. I would have had Gazdag first, then Carranza, Wagner, and maybe the defenders. Would have left Brujo 11th on the list, behind even Andre Blake.
  14. Penalty kicks should never decide a championship. They should never decide a game. It is the worst part of soccer and FIFA should take a long, hard look at this. All penalties in general suck. Fire penalty kicks into the sun.
  15. The FOX broadcast was fucking terrible. Not the analysis or personalities, but their producers and directors have NO IDEA what they are doing. At least five times they cut away from live action to show useless close ups. Just leave camera 1 up and only pull back when there’s a stoppage in play. We missed the build up on two half-chances and they just kept fucking around the entire time. I did 9 miserable years of live television and will consult for FOX for free. Please call me, I am serious. I will fly to Los Angeles or wherever the HQ is and teach all producers and directors how to do this.
  16. Alejandro Bedoya not being available was a huge loss. Not only did it force another start for Jack McGlynn on the right side, but it limited their depth on the bench. Jim Curtin only used three subs, one of which was for Burke, himself a sub. I have to check on this, but I’m pretty sure didn’t have another window in which to throw an extra body on there after the third goal, because he had already gone to Chris Donovan a few minutes earlier, out of necessity. If that didn’t happen, Matt Real or Nate Harriel might have come in to help lock it down. (EDIT – thread)
  17. Andre Blake is an absolute stud and saved the first penalty. Never forget.
  18. Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza didn’t have amazing games.
  19. Olivier Mbaizo had a GREAT game. His redemption story flew under the radar.
  20. Jakob Glesnes – rock steady in the back, excellent on the ball, very good game from him. Elliott skating on a yellow card, then scoring two goals, was incredible to watch.
  21. These teams are so evenly matched, it’s amazing. In recent years they’ve played to a 3-3 draw, a 2-2 draw, and then a 3-3 draw in a cup final that went to penalties. I could watch LA and Philly play over and over again.
  22. It totally sucks, but Jim Curtin is now 0-4 in Cup finals. He’s been on the losing end of the 2014, 2015, and 2018 U.S. Open Cup finals and now the 2022 MLS Cup final. Two of those games were lost on penalties and they just didn’t have a great roster in the other one (2014), but battled hard. Only once did his team really fail to compete (2018).
  23. John McCarthy is a great guy. I know that’s probably the last thing anybody wants to hear, but losing to him is better than losing to Joe Carter, Patrick Kane, or other assorted Philly killers and/or dickheads. At least J Mac gets a title.
  24. Collapse aside, this remains the best season in Union history. They scored 72 goals and conceded 26. They didn’t lose a single game at home. They went to a cup final. They won three individual awards – GK of the year, coach of the year, and defender of the year. They’re likely gonna lose Kai Wagner and maybe Brujo in the transfer market, and need to replenish in some spots, but they really did have an incredible year and hopefully that’s the memory that surfaces here when we look back at this team 10, 15 or 20 years from now. On most nights it felt like a privilege to watch these guys, because they really gave everything they had. You can’t ask for much more than what this team provided in 2022.
  25. This DOPE called WIP after the game and said the Union won. Rob Ellis had to correct him because the guy thought Philly was wearing black.