The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup resumed on Wednesday night, with the first semifinal pitting the Philadelphia Union against visiting Sporting Kansas City. The Union had recently pounded Kansas City 4-0 in league play, the first win in the John Hackworth Era. Sporting KC got their revenge this evening, booking their date in the Finals with a 2-0 victory via goals by Jacob Peterson and Graham Zusi.
There has been a stigma in past years that Major League Soccer teams largely wrote off the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Tournament. That was not the case with this match, as the hosts had gone public with a campaign to energize the fan base in anticipation for a run to the Cup. On the other hand Kansas City posted the highest blind bid to host the Finals, beating out 3-time reigning Seattle Sounders at their own game.
This semifinal was a bruising affair, one you might expect from two teams that had met less than three weeks ago. Kansas City clearly came out looking to constantly harass Philadelphia. As soon as the Union could advance the ball to the midfield, a swarm of the opposition would crowd out and turn back the forward movement. Philadelphia enjoyed a clear possession advantage, but most of that time on the ball was spent poking around the perimeter of the KC defensive shell. And the same could be said for Kansas City as well in attack. Both teams were tentative, trying to find their opponent’s weakness without exposing their own.
While Philadelphia had the advantage in controlling the flow, KC was the more dangerous team when it came to the final third. Their advantage in size and sheer athleticism always made them a threat, both from set pieces and through the normal course of play. This also showed itself in Philadelphia’s game plan, as they shied away from swinging set pieces into the attacking area, instead opting for shorter options to draw out the defense.
The breakthrough for Kansas City came in the 65th minute, after Sporting KC drew a Michael Lahoud foul near the touchline. Zusi lined up the free kick, spun it into the area, and Peterson redirected the pass just inside the near post. Zac MacMath thought the ball might sail wide and hesitated ever-so-slightly in making the play, allowing the ball to glance off his glove and into the net.
That go-ahead goal for KC gave them an advantage they never enjoyed in the earlier meeting. Sporting gave up an early goal at PPL Park in June, forcing them to press and chase the game. That left the backline high and exposed to the speed of Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot. With a lead, Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler were comfortable setting up shop closer to their defensive 18, not giving much room for the speedy forwards to break behind.
The Union nearly tied it up three minutes later, as a ball was played through to Hoppenot by Freddy Adu. The young French forward had to take the shot quickly, but Jimmy Neilsen used his reflexes to get in front of it and force it wide.
With Philadelphia pressing to try and get the equalizer, Zusi got the stoppage time goal to seal victory, preying on the fact the goalkeeper MacMath was pushing forward to aid the attack. Seth Sinovic had cleared a ball for KC towards MacMath, who headed it forward from well outside his area. His headed pass was intercepted by Zusi, who chipped it calmly down the pitch and into the unmanned goal.
For Kansas City, they will now face the Sounders at Livestrong Sporting Park on August 8th for the chance to hoist the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Not only would that represent some well-earned hardware, but it also would qualify the team for the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League Group Stages. It should be an amazing scene in the 2nd year of the building’s existence. One factor to note – defensive standout Aurelien Collin picked up his third yellow card of the competition, which will force him to be suspended from the Final.
And while the Union’s ride seems to have smoothed a bit with the managerial change, this loss is tough to take. The Zolos will now need to focus on clawing their way back into contention for that final MLS Cup playoff spot. They stand 8 points behind Houston for that position, but have played two fewer matches thus far. Wins will be at a premium as they face Montreal at home on Saturday.
65′ SKC 1-0 Peterson (Zusi)
90+3′ SKC 2-0 Zusi
PHI: (4-2-3-1): MacMath; Williams, Okugo, Valdes, G. Farfan; Lahoud (Gomez 67′), Carroll; Pajoy (Hoppenot 64′), M. Farfan, Adu; McInerney
SKC: (4-2-1-3): Neilsen; Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic; Nagamura, Espinoza; Zusi; Kamara, Bunbury (Sapong 64′), Peterson.