Kei Kamara and Sporting Kansas City are headed back to the Final for the first time since 2004. Photo: Michael Feblowitz
It might not have been the prettiest game of soccer for a neutral fan to watch, but what mattered for Sporting Kansas City was its 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union in the US Open Cup Semifinals—a result that guarantees a home game in the final against the three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders on August 8.
In a game that saw 22 more fouls than shots and four more yellow cards than goals, it was Jacob Peterson making the difference with a 65th minute goal. His headed goal held up until second half stoppage time, when Graham Zusi scored from midfield on an empty net to put the game away.
“The guys were locked into the result…I thought they did a very good job,” Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said after the game. “We really didn’t give much away. I’m really proud of the guys for a clean sheet.”
From the onset, the visitors were determined to not let the Philadelphia crowd have anything to cheer about. Kansas City applied high pressure, giving the Union little space in which to work. Sporting was content to let Philadelphia have the ball in the defensive half, only to cut out nearly every pass that found its way into the offensive third.
Other than a few corners, the first half was largely bereft of action. There was just one shot on goal from Kansas City, while Philadelphia had none. There was plenty of physical play, however. Each team had eight fouls in the first half, with the Union’s Gabriel Farfan earning the game’s first yellow card in the 30th minute.
Union head coach John Hackworth was unhappy with the refereeing, but he gave credit to Sporting for winning the game. “Congratulations to Sporting KC. They did what they had to do to get the result…We didn’t take our chances, we missed the final pass a lot,” he said.
In the second half, both squads came out with a more attacking mindset. It did not lead to any clear chances though, until the 65th minute. On a free kick, Zusi curled the ball into the top of the box. Peterson put a headed effort toward goal, where Union goalie Zac MacMath got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out of the upper corner of the net.
Kansas City nearly doubled its lead three minutes later when CJ Sapong got behind the Union defense. He put his shot past the onrushing goalie, but it hit the post and rolled out of play. That close call was emulated on the other side of the pitch when Philadelphia’s Freddy Adu found Antoine Hoppenot wide open in the penalty area. Jimmy Nielsen made the initial save on Hoppenot’s shot, and the Sporting defense managed to clear the ball off the line and out for a corner kick.
On June 23, just three weeks prior, the Union won their league match-up with Kansas City 4-0. They could not conjure up any of that scoring touch in this match, however. Other than a headed effort saved by Nielsen in the 78th minute, Philadelphia could not get any more shots on net. Then, as the home side pushed higher and higher up the field, Zusi put the game away.
MacMath was playing at midfield with the rest of his team in the offensive third. He tried to head away a Sporting clearance, but Zusi rushed onto the ball. With the net wide open, Zusi lofted the ball about 55 yards and into the goal to end Philadelphia’s chances.
With the 2-0 victory, Sporting Kansas City will host the final for a chance to win its second US Open Cup title, with the first coming in 2004. The championship game will be the first in the 99-year history of the tournament to be held in the state of Kansas. The winner of final will also earn a berth in the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League.
“This was a real target for us based on the fact that it has Champions League entry. It’s something we want to be able to do,” Vermes said. “We get a final at home! This was a big thing for us.”
Note: The announced attendance of 8,486 at PPL Park is the fourth highest attended Semifinal in the Modern Pro Era (1995-present)
Philadelphia Union 0:2 Sporting Kansas City
PPL Park – Chester, Pa.
SKC: Jacob Peterson (Graham Zusi) 65
SKC: Graham Zusi (unassisted) 90+
PHI: Gabriel Farfan (caution-30)
PHI: Michael Farfan (caution-52)
SKC: Paulo Nagamura (caution-52)
PHI: Michael Lahoud (caution-57)
PHI: Sheanon Williams (caution-62)
SKC: Aurelien Collin (caution-77)
Philadelphia Union: Zac MacMath; Gabriel Farfan, Carlos Valdes, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams; Michael Farfan, Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud (Gabriel Gomez-66); Lionard Pajoy (Antoine Hoppenot-63), Jack McInerney, Freddy Adu
Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielson; Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Chance Myers, Seth Sinovic; Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza; Jacob Peterson, Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong-63), Kei Kamara,
Communications and Development Associate at the Public Interest Law Center. Based in the Philadelphia area, has been helping out with TheCup.us since 2012. Graduated with a degree in journalism from Penn State University.