Tonight the Fire have a shot at hosting the final of the US Open Cup IF, that's a very big if, they can knock off the Philadelphia Union in Chester, Pennsylvania. There's no question at how big this game is, even though the coaching staff still has hope for getting into the playoffs this season. This game is also big for the supporters as well - because with a win, the Fire will get to host a US Open Cup final for the first time since 2006. Let's take a look back to the 2006 Final, shall we?
By the end of September 6th, the Fire and their supporters knew they were going to play the LA Galaxy in the final of the 2006 US Open Cup. The Fire were able to easily handle DC United at home by a score of 3-0, with goals coming from Justin Mapp and two (!) from Calen Carr. The Galaxy, on the other hand, saw off the Houston Dynamo 3-1 as Alan Gordon, Landon Donovan, and Santino Quaranta's goals were too much for the lone Dwayne De Rosario goal.
It was a cool night on September 27th as I drove to the stadium early to take up a spot near the back of Section 8, as I normally did back then. The supporters were buzzing, even though there were only just over 8000 people in attendance, as the game drew near the energy of Section 8 approached what I had felt back in the 2000 US Open Cup final at Soldier Field. The teams walked out on to the field and before you knew it the match had started. Both teams were trying to feel each other out and then all of a sudden, from a botched free kick, a cross from Andy Herron found the head of an awkward looking Nate Jaqua for the 1-0 lead.
Supporters going nuts, and then it happened again - Justin Mapp found the head of Andy Herron for a 2-0 lead. "How could this be?" I thought to myself - because at the time, LA was one of the favorites to win MLS Cup, while the Fire were expected to barely make the playoffs again. The game went into halftime with the score 2-0.
The second half saw a determined LA Galaxy take control of the game. In the 52nd minute, after much action close to Matt Pickens' goal, Alan Gordon found the back of the net to give life to the Galaxy. Wave after wave of the Galaxy attack came and the Fire's backline of CJ Brown, Tony Sanneh, Gonzalo Segares, and Diego Gutierrez held and kept the Galaxy from getting quality chances.Supporters all around had worried looks on their faces as they thought the inevitable was coming.
Then out of nowhere the Fire countered through Sanneh on the left side as he was able to get past the LA defense. Lumbering and sprinting down the left side in a way that it made my body hurt to watch, he was able to cross the ball past Kevin Hartman to a wide open Thiago who tapped it in to the net to give the Fire their 4th US Open Cup title. Thiago then ran over to the subs who were warming up and was immediately dog-piled. That scene was repeated in Section 8 as supporters were hugging those around them as they celebrated something that, although we didn't know it at the time, would be our last trophy celebration for quite a while.
The final whistle blew and the party started. It looked like all of the 8K+ fans stayed to watch the trophy presentation As Chris Armas, who was suspended for the match, lifted that cup, there was a sense of euphoria that went around the entire stadium. It was a feeling that I have not had since and it reminded me of what happened in 1998 and 2000. It is a feeling that stayed with me for days and it is a feeling that I have been longing for ever since.
Tonight's semifinal against Philly is important to the team, but I think it is just as important to those supporters that want to feel like they did in 1998, 2000, and 2006. It is important, too, that those who have never felt what it is like to win a cup final at home get a chance to experience it. Hopefully after tonight we can begin planning for euphoria.