KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City just keep finding ways to win cup finals, and the New York Red Bulls are still looking for the stake to drive through the heart of #ThatsSoMetro and kill it for good.
On Wednesday night, all it took for Sporting to win their third Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title in six years was an opening header from the shortest guy on the pitch and a match-winner that rolled into the net so slowly, it was getting hit from behind by bugs. (At least, for once in the Peter Vermes coaching era, it didn’t take penalties.)
That’s simplifying things, obviously. Sporting did beat the Red Bulls 2-1 on goals from 20-year-old Latif Blessing and his injury sub, 21-year-old Daniel Salloi, improving to 4-0 in cup finals across all competitions since 2012.
Each of the two scored for the third time this season in Open Cup play.
“Before the game, we talked about being tough to play against, being good defensively – then, when the times presented themselves, somebody step up and make the play, and it just happened tonight that those were young guys for us,” KC center back and captain Matt Besler told reporters. “So credit to them; they deserve whatever accolades they’re going to get for this game.”
Blessing’s 25th-minute goal and Salloi’s eventual match-winner in the 66th will be what most people remember from this final. Yet Sporting had to put in a lot of work at the other end to become only the second club in Open Cup history to win four or more titles (2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017) without losing a final – and the first in the MLS era, after the Fall River (Massachusetts) Marksmen won all four of their finals in a stretch from 1924 to 1931.
The defense won this one in the first 20 minutes of the second half, fending off wave after wave of pressure from the visitors until Benny Feilhaber caught the opposition too far up the pitch and lofted a long ball that Salloi ran onto and tapped around Ryan Meara to make it 2-0.
“Everybody put everything in they had. And then for us to come out in the second half and understand that we’re going to have to defend at times and be courageous in those moments – we were. And finally Daniel getting a second goal by making a great run, another good ball inside,” Vermes said. “We talked about being able to get behind them because of the way that they are a little bit overzealous going forward.
“And a great little touch – really happy for him because he’s done really well in this tournament,” Vermes added of Salloi. “I think it was a matter of time that he was going to get in the game; it was just a matter of when, but he scores a great goal and obviously, history. You know, third win in my time period, fourth one for the club, it’s big-time.”
Salloi, Sporting’s Hungarian Homegrown, was only in that early because Blessing came off with a knock late in the first half. But he knew Sporting’s finals history, and he knew that injury subs – like Lawrence Olum, who played all but the first seven minutes of the 2013 MLS Cup final when Uri Rosell had to come out with an early injury – have been called on to come up big on the way to hoisting a trophy.
“Before we walked out, Roger [Espinoza] came up to me and told me, ‘Every final we get someone hurt, so be ready and come in focused,’” Salloi said. “And I was like, ‘OK, good.’ And at halftime he was like, ‘See, I told you.’”
Bradley Wright-Phillips made it interesting when he pulled one back in second-half stoppage time. But that was as close as New York got. Still, manager Jesse Marsch insisted in his news conference that Wednesday’s match portended good things for his young club.
“Some of our best players on the day were our youngest guys,” he said. “As heartbreaking as this is, we will use this. We will use this to use confidence, because this is a tough place to play. This is a good team, and we came here and played really, really well.”
All that aside – even with the valiant effort the Red Bulls put out on Wednesday night, even with two Supporters’ Shields in the trophy case back home – not having a cup still stings.
“I think that expectation will always be there,” playmaker Sacha Kljestan said. “We know about the suffering of the fans, and never having a cup of our own. We know that pressure is always going to be there, whether you play for a club that has won a bunch of titles or not, then the expectations may start to grow even more. But when you play for a club that hasn’t won, the expectations are pretty heavy.”
And they’ll keep getting heavier, and the sting of disappointment will only get worse, and #ThatsSoMetro isn’t going to go away – not for good, until New York finally prevails in a tournament final.
“You obviously know the history of the club, and we got so close, but you’ve got to feel bad for the fans,” Wright-Phillips said. “They all came up, and I was sure we were going to win this game. There was no doubt in my mind. You’ve got to feel for them.
“We’re here and we’re trying and we’re plugging away for them, so hopefully we can bring them something. We’ve got the rest of the season to go and we’ve got some important games coming up to get to the MLS Cup final.”
That moment might not be too far away, Marsch said.
“We have to wait a little bit longer, but it’s coming. It’s coming. There’s something special happening here, and it’s painful to have to wait a little bit longer, but we’re going to find a way to get there and we have the right group of guys to do it.”