Sporting KC with point to prove in USOC semis after disappointing draw

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City head into the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with their 2017 home record still intact, several key regulars rested and something to prove after letting two big league points get away on Sunday night.

“At this point this game is over,” goalkeeper Tim Melia told reporters after a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United. “It’s behind us. We can’t change the result as much as we would like to. We have a big opportunity with a semifinal at home with the potential to move on to a final at home. 

“We need to focus on playing our best game at home on Wednesday and getting through to the next round." 

Should Sporting get past the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday, the three-time Open Cup champions would host either the New York Red Bulls or USL Cinderella side FC Cincinnati in the title match.

An Open Cup title would put the Western Conference leaders back into the CONCACAF Champions League for the fourth time this decade, and they still have a shot at a treble despite being seven points back of Supporters Shield leaders Toronto FC with nine matches to go.

“We are not where we should be in the standings because of some points we have given up and we need to correct that now,” Melia said. “This game is over with and we need to correct that now.” 

If Sporting have been frustrated with their league results of late, they have little to complain about in Cup play. Melia still hasn’t given up a goal in three matches – including a wild 3-0 extra-time victory over FC Dallas in the quarterfinals despite Sporting being down a man for much of the night.

Manager Peter Vermes also made several tactical lineup decisions on Sunday, holding out right back Graham Zusi and center forward Diego Rubio and giving Cristian Lobato his first MLS start at the playmaker’s spot before bringing on Benny Feilhaber at the half.

“I wasn’t sure if he could do more than 45 – trying to build him up a little bit, he was able to get 45 tonight but he started to get a little tired,” Vermes said. “So it was just a good time to insert Benny, but we felt that it was going to be hard for him to go past 45; we knew that going into the game.” 

Still, Vermes said, Sunday’s decisions weren’t designed to prioritize Wednesday’s knockout match.

“Whenever I put a lineup together, my expectation is centered around winning the game that we’re currently playing,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the next game. I felt the guys that were on the field could do the business. As I tell the guys when we start every year, I tell them that everybody at some point is going to have to make a contribution at some point or another. 

“There’s no doubt that you have to look at the season as a whole and games that are coming, but at the same time, right now our focus was tonight and we had a very good chance to get the result that we wanted and unfortunately we didn’t. We gave it away at the end there.”