KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Via U.S. Soccer) – Sporting Kansas City bounced back from an early deficit to draw level and eventually outlast San Jose Earthquakes to book a place in the Final of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – U.S. Soccer’s National Championship. After conceding their first goal of the competition, the home side dug deep to make it 1-1, but still had to persevere through extra-time and a 5-4 penalty kick shootout win before celebrating their second Open Cup Final berth in three years.
The home crowd was in full voice when the game kicked off, but after three minutes, San Jose’s outstanding Danny Hoesen brought the volume down a few notches. The lively and leggy Dutch striker, formerly of Amsterdam giants Ajax, got on the end of a long ball from new signing Vako and outpaced Ike Opara, before slowing down and letting the big man catch up. Hoesen then cleverly cut to his right and hammered a low drive inside Tim Melia’s far post. It was the first goal conceded by Sporting Kansas City in the 2017 Open Cup and in-form Hoesen’s third in four games.
San Jose, starting without talismanic striker Chris Wondolowski, aimed to ride the counter-attack to victory. Hoesen was the focal point for their frontline and the visitors sat back and broke out of their five-man rearguard looking to find him whenever they could. It nearly worked on two more occasions in the first-half before Sporting Kansas City started to make their mark on the game.
The home side began to keep the ball, with Benny Feilhaber the pivot in midfield. They would amass 75 percent of the possession in the first-half, but it wasn’t until the 18th minute that they carved out their first real chance of any consequence. Jimmy Medranda got on the end of a half-cleared corner and hammered a low drive that the sprawling Andrew Tarbell was just barely able to keep from sneaking into his near post. It was to be the start of a long night for the San Jose net-minder.
Tarbell was in fine form throughout the opening period, making three big-time saves before finally showing he was human after all. With 32 minutes gone, the SKC game plan finally paid off. They pulled level on the end of a move comprised of no fewer than 18 passes, with every player (excluding Melia) getting a touch. The ball moved from right to left and back to front with precision, accuracy and quickness. It eventually fell to Medranda who pulled the ball back sweetly across the face of goal. Diego Rubio was alert to the chance and slammed home past Tarbell, who was left – for once – with no chance. From there on out it was all Sporting Kansas City. Patient and calm, they began to turn the screws on the visitors who were fortunate to go into the locker-room without conceding again.
The second-half lacked the frenetic pace of the first, but had its moments nevertheless. The pattern established by the end of the first half continued with SKC keeping the ball and dictating possession while the Quakes tried to carve out the odd chance on the counter.
The 57th minute saw SKC’s first-half goal-hero Rubio on the hunt again. A neat piece of interplay between Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing sent the ball looping through the area and on to the Earthquakes’ doorstep. Rubio climbed highest and headed at goal, only to be denied by the busy Tarbell, who was having a career night. The diminutive and always-energetic Blessing nearly nodded home from the resulting corner.
The pressure was mounting on the visitors from the Bay Area, who had little to offer in attack. Hoesen went on a mazy 50-yard run in the 66th minute. He opened up some space for a shot, but only to be denied by Melia. Seconds later Tommy Thompson had a decent chance from in close, but his toe-poke was blocked just wide. Both men were headed for the bench soon after as Chris Leitch reshuffled his Quakes pack and brought on all-time top-scorer Wondolowski in hopes he might grab a winner against the run of play.
Wondo had a good chance shortly after entering the fray. He got on the end of a fine pass from Vako, the Georgian international getting his first taste of Open Cup action. But the U.S. National Team striker wasn’t able to get enough oomph behind his curling shot from 20 yards and it was gobbled up by the grateful Melia. Both sides were running out of gas and extra-time was unavoidable amid a flurry of cramps that left players from both sides clutching calves and hamstrings while strewn about the pitch.
Little of note happened in either period of extra-time as nerves and fatigue took over. Tarbell made an uncharacteristic mistake in the 96th minute, allowing Roger Espinoza to nip the ball off his foot and Daniel Salloi to have a shot from the edge of the box. It was going wide of target when Blessing tried to guide it goal-ward, but he got his effort horribly wrong and hit high, wide and ugly to a groan from the home crowd.
The game needed penalties to decide a winner. Both sides’ first shooters missed from the spot. Feilhaber’s damp squib was kept out by Tarbell, who made no fewer than 11 saves during regulation and extra-time. Up next, Melia denied ace marksman Wondolowski with a glorious diving save to his right. The two sides went hell-for-leather and into sudden-death kicks, where Victor Bernardez, a late substitute, saw his kick blocked by Melia to send the home crowd into hysterics and the volume in the stadium up to eleven.
It was a long night for both sides and the fans too. But in the end, a few gray hairs are nothing compared to a place in the Final of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. The win sets up another home game for Sporting Kansas City, who will host either FC Cincinnati, the second-division Cinderellas from USL, or New York Red Bulls, who have never before won an Open Cup or MLS Cup. The Final will be played at Children’s Mercy Park on Sept. 20 and will be a second Open Cup Final in the space of three years for SKC, who were recently crowned Open Cup champs in 2015.