What a Blessing: Sporting KC pull out emotional Open Cup quarterfinal win

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The punches just kept coming, and Sporting Kansas City just kept rolling with them, until it was time for them to get up and deliver a knockout combination.

There was the passing on Sunday of principal owner Neal Patterson, who was remembered in an emotional pregame tribute. There was the 10th-minute red card to left back Seth Sinovic, which left Sporting a man down for 86 minutes in Tuesday’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup quarterfinal against FC Dallas.

And there was the scary sight of center back Ike Opara being stretchered off (though he managed to flash a thumbs-up to the fans on the way out) and taken to a hospital for observation after a bicycle kick to the head from Maxi Urruti – which earned Urruti a second yellow, the first of two ejections for Dallas in extra time.

But then Latif Blessing scored in stoppage time of the first extra period. Then he did it again, a surprise backheel at the post with Atiba Harris keeping him onside at point-blank range – and Sporting added one more from Daniel Salloi in ousting the defending Open Cup champions 3-0 at Children’s Mercy Park.

“It was a game that we won as a city, more than a team or an organization,” said midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who orchestrated the late surge with two assists after coming on at the start of extra time – a rare bench appearance for the veteran No. 10. “There were so many aspects emotionally about this game, obviously, with Neal passing, who’s done so much for this city and this club.

“Obviously, what happened to Ike was very scary as well. He’s been our best player so far this year, and we’re missing guys with the [US] national team – and so it was a pretty fantastic experience to just be part of this game. We wanted this one. We wanted to make sure we won it in front of our fans, and we fought our tails off for 120 minutes, down a man for I don’t know how many minutes. This is just a fantastic win.”

The way his side won was a fitting tribute to Patterson, Sporting manager Peter Vermes said.

“Two things happened in tonight’s game,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “One thing is that his big quality is that he was an incredibly hard worker. Well, the guys had to work very hard tonight for however many minutes being a man down. And they gave nothing away. They found a way to just block everything. It was unreal.

“And then the other thing is that he really loved goals. He would always talk to me and say ‘Ah, we really need to score goals here.’ All the time. So the fact that we stick in three tonight [after] being a man down, I don’t know of a different way we could’ve paid tribute to him.”

For the 2016 winners, it was a stunning end to their hopes for a repeat.

“We won it last year and we know what it takes to achieve those trophies,” FCD manager Oscar Pareja said. “We put all the energy today just to advance. I think we didn’t leave anything behind and everything was given by the players. It was a game that just turned very awkward in the way it went.”

Blessing opened the scoring at even strength, then doubled the lead five minutes later with Sporting up a man after Javi Morales drew a straight red for violent conduct shortly after Blessing’s first goal.

“I’m very happy,” Blessing told reporters. “I thank Benny; he just gave me the passes to score so I give the credit to Benny. We just worked hard for the team to move forward. We are here for the cup. I’m here for the cup. I just came from Ghana to win cups for Kansas City. I’m so happy to win today.”

And with every passing minute after the sudden turn in fortunes, Sporting grew more and more energized as the visitors visibly wilted. Salloi stuck in the dagger in the 118th minute with his second Open Cup goal and third in four matches across all competitions, and the crazy night was complete.

“I thought in the last 30 minutes there was a lot of open space,” Pareja said. “Believe it or not, I thought in the 90 minutes, we did a lot to try to break the lines that Kansas City had and that cost us. As I said, there were spaces in the last 30 minutes and they took advantage of that. We couldn’t find the net and to win games, you have to score goals.”