Sporting Kansas City stole the show on Wednesday night, riding four second-half goals en route to a 6-0 victory over Union Omaha in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The victory allowed Sporting to advance to their sixth Semifinals in club history, where they will face another USL club: USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC.
The margin of victory is the highest in a Quarterfinal match since 1991, when the USISL’s Richardson Rockets (TX) defeated Galveston Norte America, 8-1. The last time six goals were scored in a Quarterfinal was when Minnesota United FC beat New Mexico United (USL Championship), 6-1, in 2019.
Even during the initial moments of the match, Sporting was able to maintain their composure, set up their formation, and execute their game plan.
“If you come with the effort and you have respect for your opponent, you understand that they want to win as well,” said Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes, who improved his advance percentage to .800, second-highest of the Modern Era. “If you go out and play your game, then you give yourself a chance. The guys today were hungry. They were organized. I also believe they gave the effort that they needed to, but they were also disciplined.”
Union Omaha was able to hold Sporting Kansas City at bay for the first few minutes, but the flood gates opened in the 10th minute when Sporting midfielder Dániel Salloí was fed a pass from Khiry Shelton and took a shot from the center of the box into the lower left corner. The two would connect for a second goal later in the match. The action happened so fast that Union Omaha goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu had little time to react. Despite giving up six goals, one of the bright spots in Union Omaha’s defense was Nuhu, who had several high-quality reflex saves throughout the match.
That organization allowed them to exploit Union Omaha’s defense time and time again. One major reason for that was Salloí, whose two goals on the night surpassed Dom Dwyer for club’s leading scorer in the US Open Cup. His threatening runs along the left sideline routinely pulled players out of position, opened up passing lanes, extended the field, and exposed threats that the Owls weren’t prepared to defend.
“I thought was a handful on the left hand side, for them,” said Vermes. “Dániel, he has excellent movement off the ball, but I also think part of the reason why he was so effective was that when Cam was playing in between the lines and he was pretty disciplined to it as what we wanted him to do. He was so good at turning and running at the back line and feeding Dániel in the run, as opposed to giving it to him and then he has to start from a stopped position.”
When asked about going after Union Omaha’s outside backs, Vermes said:
“Yeah, it was part of the game plan. I thought that because of our movement of the ball, if it was going to be good, we could move from side to side and find 2-versus-1 or 3-versus-2 situations, that was going to be big, but the other is that Khiry was very good with coming off the back line and pulling guys out with him and if they didn’t come, then we had 4-versus-2 in the midfield, which we overpowered them just with numbers and that was a big part of the game.”
Case in point was the second goal, coming in the 37th minute, when Sporting midfielder Felipe Hernández was able to get a cross off and defender Kortne Ford was able to head the ball past Nuhu. Hernández would finish the match with two goals and one assist. When the teams went into the locker rooms for halftime, Sporting was leading 2-0, but they weren’t even close to being finished.
In the second half, Sporting would go on to score four more goals.
Aside from assisting on the first goal of the match, Sporting striker Khiry Shelton contributed to the scoreline by assisting on Salloi’s record-breaking goal in the 53rd minute. Shelton fed the ball out to Salloi on the left wing and the Hungarian winger entered the box, shook two defenders before slotting it past the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
Shelton would add one of his own three minutes later. Nocolas Isimat-Mirin delivered a long ball out of the back up to Shelton would brought it down between two defenders. His touch nearly got away from him but he was able to pull off a sliding shot on goal before the second defender could close on him. The shot got behind the keeper and pinged off the post and into the back of the net for his second career Open Cup goal (the first coming against FC Dallas in the Fourth Round back on May 10)
Felipe Hernandez would round out the scoring with a pair of goals.
In the 66th minute, a low cross took a deflection off an Omaha defender and slowly dribbled its way in front of goal where Hernandez got to it first and punched home his first career Open Cup goal.
He would add a second on a similar play as Logan Ndenbe sent a much more crisp centering pass from the right wing and found Hernandez at the top of the box for a thumping goal that put the game to bed.
By the final whistle, Sporting Kansas City has 78% of the possession. Vermes recognized this and said:
“It was part of our game plan, but it was also part of our identity and I think the fact that we’ve had some consistency in the group out on the field and we’re getting guys back, maybe they’re not all 100 percent fit, but getting those guys back that understand their identity, having them out on the field, that consistency, it lends itself to playing who we are. We kept the ball really well.”
While the action on the field was noteworthy, so was the environment. Children’s Mercy Park, which is home to the second-highest average attendance for US Open Cup matches in the Modern Era, was loud and boisterous from the beginning. Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Hernández commented on the environment:
“It was good. The first five minutes, I could hear that corner. They were loud and rowdy,” said Hernandez. “I could hear them all game, so it was good to see that from them, but our fans were awesome as well, like they always are.”
Even Union Omaha head coach Jay Mims took a moment to comment on the environment after the match:
“It was proper environment tonight. It was wonderful. I think the only bad thing was the score line, but everything else was first class. I mean the fans, the stadium, our fans, the environment, the wave was going on, the chanting, the singing, it was just the banter. I just thought it was great. The field played perfect. It was just, obviously, not the result we were looking for.”