Thunder rolls, oust defending champs
The Kansas City Wizards have been dethroned as Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion, the Minnesota Thunder of the USL First Division (second tier) continuing their remarkable Cinderella run with a third successive victory against MLS opposition in a 3-1 win on Wednesday night Park University's Julian Field.
A pair of goals from Johnny Menyongar and an own goal ensured the Wizards will not be the first team in more than two decades to repeat as Open Cup winners. After defeating Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids in earlier rounds, the Thunder have now earned a semifinal date against the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes-Los Angeles Galaxy match.
The Wizards featured less of a starting lineup than anticipated as midfielders Preki and Alex Zotinca played instead of Sasha Victorine (hobbled by a fibula contusion) and Chris Klein. In addition, Bob Gansler left regulars such as forward Josh Wolff, backs Jimmy Conrad and Jose Burciaga Jr. and goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi on the bench in advance of Friday's league match against Columbus.
The Thunder looked organized and capable on the attack from the start there was a feeling the home side was living a fleeting existence. And the feeling became truth just after the opening half hour.
Former Wizards player Jay Alberts played Menyongar into the box and he blasted a 16-yard drive to the left of a flailing K.C. 'keeper Will Hesmer, who fell to the ground as the ball rippled the upper net to give the underdog Thunder first blood in the 33rd minute.
The Wizards quickly kicked off and defender Brian Roberts released a cross into the box that fell harmlessly soon followed by a Davy Arnaud shot from the left that went directly into the arms of Minnesota goalkeeper Joe Warren. The fight was clearly on now as the Wizards had realized the Thunder's aptitude as their fellow MLS sides had before them when being eliminated by Buzz Lagos's boys.
The Wizards threatened on a free kick from Diego Gutierrez to Jack Jewsbury in the 44th minute, but the Thunder battled to clear. And two minutes hence, Jewsbury sent a curving ball goalward that Warren handled gingerly for a final chance of the half that ended with the Thunder up by one and shutting out the continuously dangerous Wizards.
Gansler showed his intent at the open of the second half as he inserted Klein into the right midfield spot and Roberts was sent to the bench in an effort to put additional pressure on the Thunder's defense. Arnaud went up front and Jewsbury fell back to left midfield.
But the match would take another turn in the 54th minute. The ever-dangerous Menyongar controlled the ball in the penalty area, just wide of Hesmer's left post. His shot hit defender Shavar Thomas's foot and glided past a despondent Hesmer at the near post to double the visitors lead.
Arnaud hit for goal the next minute but his shot hit the bottom of the left post and rolled across the goal before Warren covered.
Yet it didn't take long for the lights to shine again for the upstart Thunder. Menyongar played antagonist for the third time as he was given space down the heart of the Kansas City defense and obliged with his second goal of the night to truly make the Wizards desperate.
It took until the 71st minute for Kansas City to find the scoreboard as Klein played a looping ball for a one-on-one Ryan Pore. Pore eked by his defender and trickled a shot past Warren to give the Wizards a breath.
Yet Menyongar was not done. His cross from the right wing found strike partner Melvin Tarley at the top of the Wizards box, and created space to hit the ball to Hesmer's right forcing a sprawling save in the 75th minute.
The Wizards nearly crept within one shortly thereafter as Pore played for Arnaud at the far post. He made good contact with a downward header but it skipped harmlessly over the bar.
Arnaud was a beacon for the Wizards and he created one more good chance in the 84th minute when he stepped back for a cross at the far post. His violent volley steamed for Warren's goal, but the shot was too accurate and the attempt was saved.
But the die that had been cast early on, and the Thunder rolled away from Kansas City with a third MLS scalp in three tries as Cinderella was alive and well in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.