KANSAS CITY, Kan. – A quick round of introductions, a few speeches, another trophy hoisted in front of the hometown faithful, and then Sporting Kansas City had to run.
The club made a hastily scheduled swing by Sporting Park on Thursday afternoon, on their way from one coast to another, to celebrate Wednesday night's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup victory over the Philadelphia Union.
“It's nice,” said center back and captain Matt Besler, one of seven Sporting players to convert in the penalty phase on Wednesday after the two sides deadlocked 1-1 through 120 minutes. “I don't know if this was even in the plans last night. We just found out about it once we boarded the flight. But it makes sense. It was something we definitely wanted to do as players.
“We knew we were going to have to stop in Kansas City, so we just said, 'Why not come over to the stadium and celebrate with the fans that came out?'”
The 20-minute festivities, before the team had to get back on a plane and depart for Saturday's MLS match in Portland (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), were made possible – just as Sporting's Open Cup victory in 2012 and MLS Cup triumph in 2013 were – by Kansas City's mastery of the penalty stage.
“I think everybody was confident,” Besler told MLSsoccer.com. “At the same time, penalty kicks – there's no for sure things. Penalty kicks can go either way. I think it is special that we've been able to pull it off three times in a row without losing. I think that speaks a lot about our character.”
The common thread in that mastery is veteran midfielder Paulo Nagamura, who put his fifth-round attempt just inside the left post on Wednesday night and became the only player to convert in all three of Sporting's title matches this decade.
He also converted in the marathon 10-round shootout that decided Sporting's MLS Cup victory over Real Salt Lake, and delivered the eventual winner – on his second try, after Seattle 'keeper Michael Gspurning was called off his line early on the first – when Sporting outlasted the Sounders for the 2012 Open Cup.
“I like it,” Nagamura said. “If I have to take five more, I'll take five more. I was just glad I was able to convert mine at a very critical time and help the team get the win.”
There's no secret to Sporting's success beyond experience in and familiarity with high-pressure penalty situations, Nagamura said.
“We like the dramatic finish,” he said. “No, it's a credit to all the guys on the team. We fought back in a game where we were 1-0 down, and we were able to get a result and a trophy. That's always huge for this city and this club. I think the experience just paid off for us yesterday.”
Wednesday night's shootout was sealed for Sporting in the eighth round, when Tim Melia – who has gone from league pool 'keeper to Open Cup hero in one season – saved Andrew Wenger's shot and Jordi Quintilla put a low roller past John McCarthy.
“I wish we'd won it in regular time, but it was good,” Melia told MLSsoccer.com. “The guys' PKs were pretty much unsaveable – from our center backs, our forwards, everyone was hitting their PKs, and we're happy that we can get out of there with a win.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.