Sporting Kansas City secured passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final with a thrilling 5-4 penalty kick shootout victory over the San Jose Earthquakes following a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night at raucous Children’s Mercy Park.
Danny Hoesen fired San Jose ahead after just four minutes, but Diego Rubio was the recipient of a superb team goal in the 32nd minute to restore parity. Sporting Kansas City dominated for extended periods throughout the night, but the Earthquakes survived 90 minutes in regulation and an additional 30 minutes of extra time to force a shootout. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia would prove heroic by saving two penalties, including the game-winning stop on San Jose’s Victor Bernardez, to ignite wild celebrations inside the stadium.
Wednesday’s pulsating win propels Sporting Kansas City into the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, which will take place Sept. 20 at Children’s Mercy Park. Manager Peter Vermes’ men will await the winner of next Tuesday’s semifinal encounter between the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League.
Tickets for the U.S. Open Cup Final will go on sale tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. CT to Sporting KC Season Ticket Members and the general public via SeatGeek.com. Season Ticket Members will have right of first refusal until next Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 10 a.m. CT. At that time, tickets that are not purchased by STMs will become available to the general public.
The penalty-kick triumph extends Sporting Kansas City’s unbeaten streak to 13 matches in all competitions since the start of June, tying an all-time club record first set in 2012. Manager Peter Vermes’ men are now set to compete in their third Open Cup final in six seasons, while San Jose’s wait for its first-ever Open Cup final appearance will drag on for another year.
With his team just three days removed from a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United FC, Vermes deployed a near full-strength lineup on Wednesday evening. Defender Graham Zusi, midfielder Benny Feilhaber and forward Diego Rubio — all of whom were rested Sunday — retained their starting spots, while Jimmy Medranda filled in for suspended left back Seth Sinovic. Captain Matt Besler notably made his 18th career Open Cup appearance, moving into sole possession of first place on the club’s all-time charts in that category.
The visitors wasted little time doing what Sporting KC’s three previous Open Cup opponents had failed to do this season. Hoesen ran onto a through ball from Vako, cut centrally from the left flank and curled a sensational strike to the far right corner beyond Melia’s reach, breaking the goalkeeper’s 303-minute Open Cup shutout streak that had spanned the duration of the 2017 tournament.
San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell enjoyed a career night with 11 saves and did wonderfully to palm Medranda’s swerving effort wide of the near post in the 18th minute, shortly after Gerso and Rubio both tried their luck from distance to no avail. Tarbell delivered twice more before the half-hour mark, smothering a close-range attempt from the tireless Latif Blessing and diving to tip away a venomous blast from Zusi.
With Tarbell performing admirably between the posts, a cunning and incisive attack was required to level terms 13 minutes before the break. A well-worked buildup consisted of 18 total passes from nine different players, with penetration ultimately coming from Medranda. The diminutive Colombian received a pass from Blessing, accelerated down the left side of the box and squared the ball to Rubio, who became the 10th Sporting KC player to touch the ball during the breathtaking sequence with a neat finish into the back of the net.
Rubio nearly bagged a second goal nine minutes later, swiveling on the edge of the penalty area and pulling the trigger with his left foot, but Tarbell sprung low to push the ball beyond his left-hand post.
San Jose weathered an arduous storm between the 55th and 60th minutes as Sporting Kansas City laid a furious siege on Tarbell’s goal. A brilliant combination between Gerso and Blessing ended with the latter looping a clever ball into the path of Rubio, whose near-post shot was saved. Blessing — the shortest player on the field at 5-foot-3 — latched onto the end of Zusi’s ensuing corner, but glanced his header inches wide of the far left post.
A short moment later, Tarbell corralled a 25-yard drive from Feilhaber before saving Rubio’s snap-header off Medranda’s decadent cross. The chance would be Sporting KC’s final golden opportunity during regulation, though the hosts continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession and territory. San Jose managed a rare foray forward in the 82nd minute, but substitute Chris Wondolowski saw his effort from the top of the box saved comfortably.
Tarbell remained resolute as extra time unfolded, leaping to tip Rubio’s bending strike wide of the frame before parrying clear on a flurry of crosses into a crowded penalty box. In the late stages, an impudent back-heel pass from Feilhaber led to a blocked shot from Blessing while Medranda sent a pair of volleys over the crossbar.
A dramatic penalty kick ensued in front of an electric Kansas City Cauldron supporters section, with both goalkeepers producing saves in the first round. Feilhaber notably missed his first penalty in 17 attempts in a Sporting KC uniform, but Melia made up for the miss by saving Wondolowski’s subsequent spot kick.
Both teams successfully converted their next four attempts, putting the spotlight on Besler to begin round six. The center back slotted low to Tarbell’s right to give Sporting KC a 5-4 lead, piling the pressure on Bernardez to keep San Jose alive. Melia trumped the San Jose defender, diving low to his right to make the game-winning save and keep alive Sporting KC’s dreams of winning a fourth Open Cup title. Kansas City is a perfect 3-0 all-time in Open Cup championships, having hoisted the trophy in 2004, 2012 and 2015.
Sporting Kansas City (9-4-10, 37 points) now faces the sizable task of playing its third game in seven days, as the club will travel to face reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC (9-7-7, 34 points) on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.