On a record night, a noisy home crowd pushed Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City to a 1-0 win over United Soccer League side Saint Louis FC.
Graham Zusi was the difference, as he and his United States Men’s National Team teammate Benny Feilhaber combined often in the attacking half. Any touch from either player was met with a loud roar from the Sporting Park crowd.
Those supporters were rewarded in the 70th minute.
Feilhaber took a pass from defender Saad Abdul-Salaam and found a streaking Zusi from the right wing. Zusi nodded in the lofted cross under Saint Louis goalkeeper Mark Pais’ right glove.
“We didn’t go away from our game plan,” Zusi said. “We were very patient. Saad recognized he didn’t have the numbers, so he pulled the back to Benny.
“It allowed more of us to get in the box and a better chance for one of us to get on the end of it.”
The game featured the hosts in attack-mode for all 90 minutes. Sporting, the 2004 and 2012 Open Cup champion, nearly opened the scoring in the first half, but Saint Louis’ Mike Ambersley made two goal-line saves to deny the hosts.
Zusi got on the end of cross from Amadou Dia in the penalty area, but Ambersley bested the USMNT veteran. The midfielder trekked back to the goal line to deny Zusi’s header with his foot, and then a rocket from Dom Dwyer smacked Ambersley’s knee.
“Bottom line: You’ve just got to win and move on in these types of situations,” Feilhaber said. “You knew it was going to happen.
“Obviously, they put a lot of guys behind the ball, it makes it tough.”
The announced crowd of 19,298 fans, mostly decked out in Sporting blue, was loud from start to finish. The attendance set a new fourth round-record for the Open Cup in the modern era.
The previous record of 15,981 fans was set by the same MLS side in 2013, when Sporting played its USL affiliate, Orlando City SC.
“It was our crowd,” Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes. “I think I heard something over in the corner a few times, but there were a few people over there.”
In the recent weeks, both teams had talked about a rivalry between the squads, which are located a mere three hours’ drive from each other. This was the first game between the two clubs, and some of the MLS players are interested in keeping the series going.
“If Saint Louis does eventually come to the league, it’ll be good for both organizations,” Feilhaber said. “I’ve never thought of Chicago as our rival. I think we have better rivals in the west.”
Sporting marches on in the 2015 Open Cup. Its opponent is still up in the air, as the draw for the fifth round will take place on June 18. Game has a set date for June 30 or July 1, at a venue yet to be determined.