KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Seattle had a chance to make history. And Sporting Kansas City made sure they got directly in the way.
It took 120 minutes of soccer and a penalty-kick shootout, but Sporting ended Seattle’s run of three straight Lamar Hunt US Open Cup titles on Wednesday night as they won their second Open Cup – and first trophy since 2004 – in front of 18,863 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
After a 1-1 draw in regulation and two scoreless extra-time frames, Eddie Johnson concluded the ensuing shootout by sending his spot kick high over Jimmy Nielsen’s goal to give the home team the crown with a 3-2 win on penalties.
Sporting looked as if they were headed for the trophy after Kei Kamara converted a penalty kick in the 84th minute following Zach Scott’s hand ball in the box. But Scott atoned just two minutes later, heading in Mauro Rosales’ free kick to equalize and silencing the LSP crowd.
Following the two scoreless extra frames, matters were decided on a bizarre shootout. First, Kamara and Brad Evans both converted. Then Roger Espinoza’s tame effort was saved by Michael Gspurning, giving Seattle an advantage they still held after Marc Burch and Matt Besler found the net.
But then Osvaldo Alonso sent his right-footed effort into orbit, Graham Zusi’s cheeky chip was over the bar and Nielsen dove to parry Christain Tiffert’s effort.
After Paulo Nagamura converted his kick, his second opportunity after Gspurning was judged to have come off the line early, it was up to Johnson to keep Seattle in it. But the red-hot striker didn’t even put his shot on frame, and Sporting celebrated their triumph in front of their fans.
Inclement weather delayed the start of the game by 45 minutes, as lightning and heavy rain kept both teams off the field while fans took cover under the roof or braved the elements.
When play began at 8:45 pm CT, Sporting KC immediately grabbed the momentum, putting the Sounders defense under pressure through Teal Bunbury and Kamara. But although Sporting made their physical presence felt throughout the next 10 minutes, they had a hard time knocking Johnson off his game.
The Sounders striker nearly got on the end of a Rosales free kick in the 19th minute, a precursor of things to come, before Kamara came inches from giving the home side a first-half lead off a shot that deflected off Andy Rose and off the crossbar as Gspurning watched flat-footed.
Johnson nearly broke the deadlock in the 30th minute off a Rosales corner kick, rising to nod the ball down on frame, only for Nielsen to drop quickly to his left and push the header away.
Five minutes later, Johnson came close again after he found himself alone with Lawrence Olum and left suspended Aurélien Collin’s substitute in his wake. But he steered his shot wide of the post, allowing the capacity crowd to breathe a sigh of relief.
The second half started with more of the same intensity, but neither side managed to break through until the final minutes. Sporting finally got the game’s first goal when official Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot after ruling that Bunbury’s cross just eight minutes from time hit Scott’s arm. Kamara stepped up and coolly sent Gspurning the wrong way, burying the ball just inside the right post.
But the Sounders barely waited two minutes to hit back. Once again, Rosales stood over a dangerous free kick and curled the ball onto the head of Scott, who made no mistake with his header before celebrating in front of the 300 or so Seattle fans making their presence known in the southeast corner of the stadium.
SKC manager Vermes sent C.J. Sapong on for Bunbury as time wound down, and it nearly paid off. With three minutes of stoppage time to strike back, Sapong brought the ball down and Kamara nearly made it two, but his swiveling volley was just over the bar.
Sporting KC’s victory gives them a berth in the 2013-14 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League and marks Seattle’s first loss in the US Open Cup since becoming an MLS team in 2009.