By Sam Kovzan
Sporting Kansas City secured passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final with a thrilling 5-4 penalty kick shootout victory over the San Jose Earthquakes following a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night at raucous Children’s Mercy Park.
Danny Hoesen fired San Jose ahead after just four minutes, but Diego Rubio was the recipient of a superb team goal in the 32nd minute to restore parity. Sporting Kansas City dominated for extended periods throughout the night, but the Earthquakes survived 90 minutes in regulation and an additional 30 minutes of extra time to force a shootout. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia would prove heroic by saving two penalties, including the game-winning stop on San Jose’s Victor Bernardez, to ignite wild celebrations inside the stadium.
Wednesday’s pulsating win propels Sporting Kansas City into the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, which will take place Sept. 20 at Children’s Mercy Park. Manager Peter Vermes’ men will await the winner of next Tuesday’s semifinal encounter between the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League.
The penalty-kick triumph extends Sporting Kansas City’s unbeaten streak to 13 matches in all competitions since the start of June, tying an all-time club record first set in 2012. Manager Peter Vermes’ men are now set to compete in their third Open Cup final in six seasons, while San Jose’s wait for its first-ever Open Cup final appearance will drag on for another year.
With his team just three days removed from a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United FC, Vermes deployed a near full-strength lineup on Wednesday evening. Defender Graham Zusi, midfielder Benny Feilhaber and forward Diego Rubio — all of whom were rested Sunday — retained their starting spots, while Jimmy Medranda filled in for suspended left back Seth Sinovic. Captain Matt Besler notably made his 18th career Open Cup appearance, moving into sole possession of first place on the club’s all-time charts.
The visitors wasted little time doing what Sporting KC’s three previous Open Cup opponents had failed to do this season. Hoesen ran onto a through ball from Vako, cut centrally from the left flank and curled a sensational strike to the far right corner beyond Melia’s reach, breaking the goalkeeper’s 273-minute Open Cup shutout streak that had spanned the duration of the 2017 tournament.
San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell enjoyed a career night with 11 saves and did wonderfully to palm Medranda’s swerving effort wide of the near post in the 18th minute, shortly after Gerso and Rubio both tried their luck from distance to no avail. Tarbell delivered twice more before the half-hour mark, smothering a close-range attempt from the tireless Latif Blessing and diving to tip away a venomous blast from Zusi.
With Tarbell performing admirably between the posts, a cunning and incisive attack was required to level terms 13 minutes before the break. A well-worked buildup consisted of 18 total passes from nine different players, with penetration ultimately coming from Medranda. The diminutive Colombian received a pass from Blessing, accelerated down the left side of the box and squared the ball to Rubio, who became the 10th Sporting KC player to touch the ball during the breathtaking sequence with a neat finish into the back of the net.
Rubio nearly bagged a second goal nine minutes later, swiveling on the edge of the penalty area and pulling the trigger with his left foot, but Tarbell sprung low to push the ball beyond his left-hand post.
San Jose weathered an arduous storm between the 55th and 60th minutes as Sporting Kansas City laid a furious siege on Tarbell’s goal. A brilliant combination between Gerso and Blessing ended with the latter looping a clever ball into the path of Rubio, whose near-post shot was saved. Blessing — the shortest player on the field at 5-foot-3 — latched onto end of Zusi’s ensuing corner, but glanced his header inches wide of the far left post.
A short moment later, Tarbell corralled a 25-yard drive from Feilhaber before saving Rubio’s snap-header off Medranda’s decadent cross. The chance would be Sporting KC’s final golden opportunity during regulation, though the hosts continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession and territory. San Jose managed a rare foray forward in the 82nd minute, but substitute Chris Wondolowski saw his effort from the top of the box saved comfortably.
Tarbell remained resolute as extra time unfolded, leaping to tip Rubio’s bending strike wide of the frame before parrying clear on a flurry of crosses into a crowded penalty box. In the late stages, an impudent back-heel pass from Feilhaber led to a blocked shot from Blessing while Medranda sent a pair of volleys over the crossbar.
A dramatic penalty kick ensued in front of an electric Kansas City Cauldron supporters section, with both goalkeepers producing saves in the first round. Feilhaber notably missed his first penalty in 17 attempts in a Sporting KC uniform, but Melia made up for the miss by saving Wondolowski’s subsequent spot kick.
Both teams successfully converted their next four attempts, putting the spotlight on Besler to begin round six. The center back slotted low to Tarbell’s right to give Sporting KC a 5-4 lead, putting the pressure on Bernardez to keep San Jose alive. Melia trumped the San Jose defender, diving low to his right to make the game-winning save and keep alive Sporting KC’s dreams of winning a fourth Open Cup title. Kansas City is a perfect 3-0 all-time in Open Cup finals, having hoisted the trophy in 2004, 2012 and 2015.
Sporting Kansas City now faces the sizable task of playing its third game in seven days, as the club will travel to face reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC (9-7-7, 34 points) on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. The Western Conference clash will serve as a rematch of the 2016 Knockout Round playoff encounter that saw Seattle claim a 1-0 home triumph in controversial fashion. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 99.3 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinals
Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Weather: 76 degrees and mostly cloudy
Score 1 2 ET1 ET2 PKs F
Sporting Kansas City 1 0 0 0 5 1 (5)
San Jose Earthquakes 1 0 0 0 4 1 (4)
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi (Saad Abdul-Salaam 119), Ike Opara, Matt Besler (C), Jimmy Medranda; Roger Espinoza, Ilie, Benny Feilhaber; Gerso (Daniel Salloi 77), Diego Rubio, Latif Blessing
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Kevin Ellis, Erik Palmer-Brown, Soni Mustivar, Soony Saad
San Jose Earthquakes: Andrew Tarbell; Francois Affolter (Victor Bernardez 103), Florian Jungwirth, Andres Imperiale; Nick Lima, Jackson Yueill, Tommy Thompson (Fatai Alashe 70), Darwin Ceren, Shea Salinas; Vako, Danny Hoesen (Chris Wondolowski 73)
Subs Not Used: David Bingham, Kofi Sarkodie, Kip Colvey, Quincy Amarikwa
Stats SKC SJ
Shots 31 12
Shots on Goal 11 3
Saves 2 11
Fouls 10 15
Offsides 2 6
Corner Kicks 15 1
SJ — Darwin Ceren (caution; persistent infringement) 74
SJ — Francois Affolter (caution; unsporting behavior) 92
SJ — Andres Imperiale (caution; unsporting behavior) 111
SJ — Danny Hoesen 3 (Vako 1) 4
SKC — Diego Rubio 1 (Jimmy Medranda 2) 32
Penalty Kick Shootout:
SKC: Benny Feilhaber (saved)
SJ: Chris Wondolowski (saved)
SKC: Diego Rubio (goal)
SJ: Andres Imperiale (goal)
SKC: Ilie (goal)
SJ: Darwin Ceren (goal)
SKC: Jimmy Medranda (goal)
SJ: Vako (goal)
SKC: Daniel Salloi (goal)
SJ: Florian Jungwirth (goal)
SKC: Matt Besler (goal)
SJ: Victor Bernardez (saved)