For the third time in the last six years, Sporting Kansas City has advanced to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final, defeating the San Jose Earthquakes 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. A Modern Era record crowd of 16,193 at Children’s Mercy Park watched the home team not only earn a fourth all-time trip to the championship game, but Sporting will host the 104th U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 20.
After the match, manager Peter Vermes talked about why the club seems to have continued success in the competition.
“I think every team in the league takes it serious, whichever competition we’re talking about, they all take it seriously,” Vermes said. “The difference is, do they win? I think there’s something to be said about – we use different players, we change things up and everybody contributes. That’s a really, really special aspect, and I’ll quote Benny (Feilhaber). After the game, he’s walking by me, and I can see that he’s a little frustrated that he didn’t score his penalty. I said, ‘hey, don’t worry about it, we won.’ He goes, ‘That’s what a team is, that’s why a team can win things and not just individual players.’ Our guys believe that. It’s one of our core values, team first.”
The Earthquakes struck first in the fourth minute on a strike from Danny Hoesen with an assist from Vako. It was Vako’s 40-yard through ball that put Hoesen in behind defender Ike Opara. Hoesen ran down to the top of the penalty area before cutting back to his right before putting a shot past goalkeeper Tim Melia and inside the far post.
Sporting KC controlled possession for most of the first half, finishing with 74% of the possession by halftime, and it paid off in the 32nd minute. In an 18-pass sequence, where every player on the pitch except Melia touched the ball, ended with defender Jimmy Medranda in the penalty area. Medranda crossed it to forward Diego Rubio who first-timed it past goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell at close range.
Vermes was asked if the team had been a bit off after giving up the early goal.
“Actually, no,” Vermes said. “I thought we were playing really well. I thought they caught us on the counter. I’m not going to say that we were sleeping or whatever, sometimes you have to credit somebody for doing something that is really good. I thought that Hoesen made a really good play and had a great finish. But I go back to the key to me is how we responded and the maturity that we showed in the game to not lose ourselves and to basically chip away, chip away, chip away. The goal we scored was tremendous, we had 18 passes leading up to the goal. It was almost like a passing pattern that we do in training. It was just a fantastic finish, shoot we could have scored I don’t know how many more goals. Great character by the group.”
Sporting KC’s defense put in their usual blue-collar performance. They limited San Jose to 11 total shots, only three of which were on target. Melia, in 420 minutes of play in this year’s tournament has only allowed one goal from the run of play. The club also controlled the possession battle, keeping the ball 67.6% of the game.
All of this lead up to the penalty kick shootout after extra time. Benny Feilhaber, the team’s regular penalty taker went first and Tarbell saved the attempt. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose’s all-time leader in Open Cup goals, went first for the Earthquakes and Melia saved his effort.
Melia was asked after the match on what effect his save had on the rest of the team. “I just think it helped our confidence a little bit going into the next rounds of shooting,” Melia said. “Benny is the guy that I would bet the most on making a penalty, he’s allowed to miss one and fortunately we were able to win. So I think it was just the little confidence boost that we needed to get us through the rest of the shootout.”
After both teams missed in the first round, the clubs traded goals in each of the next four rounds to force sudden death. Defender Matt Besler went in the sixth round for Sporting KC and converted his attempt, forcing San Jose’s Victor Bernardez to convert to continue the shootout. It was not to be as Melia saved that shot as well to improve to 4-0 all-time in shootouts in his career.
Melia was asked about the goalkeeper duel after the match. Melia said, “I told him right before the penalties that I thought he had an excellent game and he kept his team in it and he got his team to that point and it was my job to take it away from him.”
Sporting KC, who have a seven-game tournament unbeaten streak at home, will host the winner of the other Semifinal between the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati. That game will be played on Aug. 15 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. The Final will take place at Children’s Mercy Park on Sept. 20.