Stories. Moments that create those stories. People who create those moments. Those are what sports are all about. Moments like trading scarves with now-friend-thru-soccer Luke, the Union Omaha-centric WhoGivesaHoot podcast purveyor, before the match.
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has created more stories, moments, and story-worthy people than any soccer 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 US Soccer pyramid) side Union Omaha battled to see who would earn the right to compete in the semifinals of the Open Cup tournament that dates back to 1913.
Sporting’s story is surprising success in the open tournament in the middle of a disappointing MLS campaign. An Open Cup title in 2022 would be a record breaking fifth for the home side. Union Omaha’s story is of defeating two supposedly superior MLS sides on their way to the quarterfinal. Which side would produce the biggest story, biggest moments, and the biggest players tonight? Which side would take another stride towards glory?
Kansas City manager Peter Vermes dealt nearly a full deck with his lineup choices:
as all have seen significant minutes across the MLS schedule in 2022, save for right back Kayden Pierre. Union put forward a similar array.
With the nearly 700 Omaha fans in attendance exhibiting their vocal might before the match even began, the evening promised a rousing night of sport.
Kansas City worked to damper the visiting supporters early. Right winger Daniel Salloi cutback for left midfielder Felipe Hernandez in the 2nd minute. Hernandez caught the ball well, forcing Union goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu to quickly palm away before the shot rippled the net.
An Omaha chance at Sporting’s back post followed, yet Sporting would take the reigns in the 10th minute. Russell split two defenders for running striker Khiry Shelton on the right wing. Shelton picked up his head and hit smartly for Salloi who had beat his man to the edge of the 6-yard box. One touch from the Hungarian Assassin and it was 1-0 Kansas City. The goal, Salloi’s 6th in US Open Cup play, drew the forward level with Dom Dwyer in Kansas City Open Cup history.
Russell continued to be a menace, forcing Nuhu into strong saves in the 13thth and 29th (in a header while towering over his defender) minutes. Sporting was indeed in prime form moving the ball with pace and purpose all over the pitch.
Yet, it would be a set piece that would further Kansas City’s momentum. On their eighth corner of the match, this one from the right, Hernandez lofted a ball to the spot where right center back Kortne Ford drove a forceful header into the turf and under the diving Nuhu. The goal was Ford’s first with Sporting Kansas City.
All was not juice for Kansas City, however, as Ford was removed for concussion protocol at the 45th minute. The Kansas native was replaced by Nicolas Isimat-Mirin.
The second half opened with Omaha forcing two Sporting players to go sliding to the ground at goalkeeper John Pulskamp’s left post in the 50th minute to escape damage and a tighter than wanted match.
“No worries, though,” Salloi said. The homegrown received wide left and high of the box from Shelton in the 53rd minute. Salloi cut one, leaving him on the ground, then cut another right to left to turn the corner deep in the box. A precise finish inside the far post capped the scintillating run that lit the KC faithful on fire and made Salloi the king of the Open Cup in KC. As eye-opening as the run was, it all began with a daring run up the middle by right back Pierre who then dished for Shelton.
From a long ball off the foot of Isimat-Mirin, Shelton then went goal scorer. Letting the pass run off his hip and down to his foot, Shelton caught Nuhu leaning in the 56th minute and rolled a shot inside Nuhu’s left post for a 4-0 Sporting lead.
Subs galore time for Vermes in the 62nd minute, as the manager inserted Roger Espinoza for Shelton, Uri Rosell for Remi Walter and Marinos Tzionis for Russell. Later, it would be Robert Voloder for center back Andreu Fontas and Logan Ndenbe for Salloi.
But not before Hernandez made it five. In the 66th, Hernandez tried to keep the ball alive for Sporting, getting the ball to Pierre. Hernandez was returned reward as Pierre fed for Tzionis who played to the spot. In another outstanding effort, Hernandez raced to the ball, touched delicately between the two, and slotted home from close range.
Don’t write the headline yet … Hernandez closed out a terrific performance with his second in the 81st minute. Spying Ndenbe on the left wing 1 v 1, the homegrown hit a seam 18 yards out at the near post and got his pass. Striking true, Hernandez made it six.
Sporting Kansas City will now face USL Championship side Sacramento Republic, who defeated LA Galaxy Tuesday evening, in the semifinals of the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. One more stride has been taken. Onto the next for Sporting Kansas City.