KANSAS CITY, Kan. – All it took was one bad pass on a quick restart to doom Sporting Kansas City's hopes of repeating as US Open Cup champions.
Just over a minute into Wednesday night's fourth-round match against Orlando City SC, the Lions' Adama Mbengue forced a turnover deep in Sporting's end. He sent a through ball to Long Tan, who put it just inside Eric Kronberg's far post, and that was all the scoring the USL PRO side needed to move on to the quarterfinals thanks to their 1-0 win at Sporting Park.
“Giving that goal away breaks you, because it's not an earned goal,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said in his postmatch news conference. “It's a goal that we're sleeping on.”
And despite outshooting the Lions 18-5 on the night, it was a goal Kansas City couldn't match.
“You can't give that goal away and then be outplayed in the first half,” Vermes said. “The second half, we owned the game, but it's too late by that point because you're chasing the game.”
As a result, Sporting now will have to earn their way to a second straight CONCACAF Champions League spot through league play.
“It's definitely not something that we wanted to have happen,” Vermes said. “We wanted to go deep in this competition, and try to go after it again. It's devastating.”
Wednesday's loss was the fourth at home across all competitions for Kansas City – one more than they dropped at Sporting Park all of last season, including going unbeaten in four Cup matches at home and winning the final in a shootout over Seattle.
“It's disappointing on a lot of levels,” left back Seth Sinovic said. “We know what it's like to win this thing, and we all desperately wanted to do it again. We're disappointed to go out. We're disappointed to let down our home fans again. It's disappointing all the way around.”
Even forward Teal Bunbury's happiness at returning to the pitch as a second-half sub, after a long absence to recover from ACL surgery, was overshadowed by the result.
“To be able to be able to be back out there after 9 ½ months is a great feeling,” said Bunbury, who had not played since being injured late last August. “But it's just a bummer. I can't really enjoy it as much as I wanted to – but that's part of the game. We've got to move forward now.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.