So much for penalty kicks, huh?
For its last three titles, Sporting Kansas City relied on 30 minutes of extra time and ultimately, penalty kicks, to claim the big trophy including the 2013 MLS Cup and the 2012 and 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups.
On Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park, they found a way to rid themselves of any more drama, although the New York Red Bulls sure made things interesting.
Behind goals by Latif Blessing and Daniel Salloi, Sporting claimed its third U.S. Open Cup title in six years and fourth total with a 2-1 win as they held off a desperate NYRB team in the closing minutes.
An audience of 21,523 witnessed SKC become the only team in the MLS to claim four titles of any kind over the past six years.
“I’m very fortunate that I get to work with incredible people every day and they are committed to what we do,” coach Peter Vermes said. “I also think they help immensely with the culture of this club. I think the other side of it is that we have incredible ownership. The resources that they provide us to do our job are amazing. They understand that the environment that we have at this club is important in everything we do, and that helps and leads to success. The final piece is that you have to have players that not only can play, but they also understand the core values of your club and your culture. We have four, I talk about them all the time: team first, high work ethic, intelligence and having a winning mentality.
“The winning mentality is not just winning games but pursuing excellence every day. We need to be competitive every year, and we need to always be, at least, in the position to compete for a championship. We know that we're not going to win one every year, though we'd like to and we strive to. But we have to consistently be competitive. I think we've done that.”
Vermes and New York head coach Jesse Marsch fielded full-strength lineups in the inaugural Open Cup meeting between the MLS charter members, played before a national television audience on ESPN2.
“Unless you're in Champions League, and let's leave that off to the side, which we are in 2019, but because of this win, every year, we start off the year and we talk about the three opportunities that we have to win,” Vermes said. “There's Supporters Shield, MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup. Those are three opportunities for us to win. I would never even think any other way other than ‘we're going to try to win all three.’ We're going to take them seriously and we're going to put a team together that can manage those tournaments in a way in which they can do it physically and psychologically, and finally tactically on the field. Credit to our coaching staff, back office staff, Brian Bliss, Mike Jacobs. Those guys have done a tremendous job in helping us build our team. And then if you look at our Swope Park Rangers coaching staff there and what they've done, and then you take the academy and their staff, you know everyone is locked in and focused. I think it's easy for you to understand that I'm not lying when I say that we truly believe that everything is centered around us winning."
Blessing’s goal came on a header in the 25th minute following a perfect, floating cross by Graham Zusi, who found the young forward dashing toward the goal mouth unmarked.
SKC dominated the remainder of the first half and controlled much of the second, which saw the team double its count.
Salloi, sprinting onto a perfectly weighted long ball from Benny Feilhaber, poked one past Red Bull goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who had advanced well off his line in attempt to clear the ball. Salloi's goal was his third in the 2017 Open Cup and gave Feilhaber his ninth career assist in the competition, the most in club history.
When things looked all but over, Michael Wright-Phillips pounced on a rebound off of teammate’s Gonzalo Veron’s shot that had been pushed away by SKC goaltender Tim Melia, and drilled it into the back of the net to half the Red Bulls’ deficit in the first minute of extra time.
NYRB continued to press and a Sporting foul in the waning moments gave the visitors a chance at a direct kick from 22 yards, but the following attempt by Felipe sailed high and a goal kick later sealed the victory for the hosts.
“Obviously, Lamar was the first owner here in Kansas City and I had the pleasure of playing for him,” Vermes said. “Great man and an incredible supporter of the game and this league, one of the founders. So the fact that we bring that home has a special place in our club, based on having his name on there, no doubt. To have done it for a third time now, in our new ownership's tenure, it's pretty special.”