Stories. Moments that create those stories. People who create those moments. These are sports. Moments like swapping scarves with now friend Luke, the Omaha Union-focused podcast provider WhoGivesaHoot, before the game.
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup created more stories, moments and people worthy of a story than any football event in the United States. Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, Sporting Kansas City and USL League One (the third tier in the pyramid of US football) battled to see who would earn the right to compete in the semifinals of the Open Cup tournament going back to 1913.
The history of Sporting is a surprising success in the open tournament in the midst of a disappointing MLS campaign. An Open Cup title in 2022 would be a fifth record for the hosts. The story of Union Omaha is to defeat two supposedly superior MLS teams on the way to the quarter-finals. Which side would produce the biggest story, the biggest moments, and the biggest players tonight? Which way would he take another step towards glory?
Kansas City manager Peter Vermes tackled almost a full deck with his lineup choices:
as everyone saw significant minutes in the MLS schedule in 2022, with the exception of right-back Kayden Pierre. The Union presented a similar matrix.
With nearly 700 Omaha fans in attendance showing their vocal power before the match even started, the evening promised an exciting night of sports.
Kansas City worked to dampen visiting fans early. Right wing cut Daniel Salloi for left midfielder Felipe Hernandez in 2nd minute. Hernandez captured the ball well, forcing Union goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu to quickly jump the palm before the shot rippled the net.
A chance for Omaha at Sporting’s bottom post followed, but Sporting would take the lead in the 10th minute. Russell split two defenders for running forward Khiry Shelton on the right wing. Shelton took the head and smartly hit for Salloi who had beaten his man on the edge of the 6-yard area. A touch of the Hungarian Assassin and it was 1-0 Kansas City. The goal, 6 from Salloith in the US Open Cup match, he equalized the striker at the level of Dom Dwyer in the history of the Kansas City Open Cup.
Russell continued to be a threat, forcing Nuhu to make strong saves in the 13thth and 29th (in a header as he towers over his defender) minutes. Sporting were in really good shape moving the ball with rhythm and determination across the pitch.
However, it would be a steady piece that would boost Kansas City’s momentum. In their eighth corner of the match, this one from the right, Hernandez threw a ball into the spot where right center defender Kortne Ford threw a powerful header into the turf and under the Nuhu dive. The goal was Ford’s first with Sporting Kansas City.
However, all was not juicy for Kansas City, as Ford was removed for concussion protocol at 45th minute. The Kansas native was replaced by Nicolas Isimat-Mirin.
The second half opened with Omaha forcing two Sporting players to slide to the ground on goalkeeper John Pulskamp’s left post in the 50th minute to escape damage and a tighter game than expected.
“Don’t worry, though,” Salloi said. The housekeeper received a wide left and top of the area from Shelton in the 53rd minute. Salloi cut one, leaving it on the ground, then cut another from right to left to go around the corner at the bottom of the area. A precise finish inside the far post crowned the glittering race that inflamed the KC faithful and made Salloi the king of the Open Cup in KC. As enlightening as the run was, it all started with a daring center run from right-back Pierre who then served Shelton.
From a long pass from the foot of Isimat-Mirin, Shelton went on to become the top scorer. Letting the pass flow from the hip and all the way to the foot, Shelton surprised Nuhu leaning in the 56th minute and pulled a shot into Nuhu’s left post for a 4-0 lead to Sporting.
Subs in abundance for Vermes in the 62nd minute, when the coach brought in Roger Espinoza for Shelton, Uri Rosell for Remi Walter and Marinos Tzionis for Russell. Next, it would be Robert Voloder for center-back Andreu Fontas and Logan Ndenbe for Salloi.
But not before Hernandez made five. In the 66th minute, Hernandez tried to keep the ball alive for Sporting, taking the ball to Pierre. Hernandez was rewarded when Pierre fed Tzionis which he played on the spot. With another outstanding effort, Hernandez ran for the ball, touched gently between two and scored at home from close range.
Do not write the title yet … Hernandez finished a formidable performance with his second in the 81st minute. Spying on Ndenbe on the 1-on-1 left wing, the housekeeper hit an 18-yard seam at the near post and got his pass. Surprisingly true, Hernandez scored six.
Sporting Kansas City will now face USL Championship team Sacramento Republic, which defeated the LA Galaxy on Tuesday night in the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semi-finals. Another step has been taken. See you next time for Sporting Kansas City.