Aug 8, 2012; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC celebrates after winning the U.S. Open Cup Final against Seattle Sounders at Livestrong Sporting Park. Kansas City won 3-2 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
It wasn't a masterpiece of soccer, but I don't think anyone in Kansas City will worry about that. Sporting KC wins their second US Open Cup trophy in a game they controlled for the most part, but only after the nerve-wracking penalty kicks.
Life is not defined by coincidence and happenstance. Sure, there are times in life where signs may point to the impending doom or blissful exuberance of last night. As I pulled into Livestrong Sporting Park, the clouds opened as if en queue and rain (a phenomenon unheard of this summer) poured down onto the delirious spectators in the stadium. Even hail could not drive the fans from the seats, but it was a omen for me as my previous encounter with cold heavy rain led to a bleak night for Sporting in Chicago just three months before.
As the clouds pushed away, rainbows formed over the stadium. In any other stadium, this would not seem like a movie, but we are in Kansas so the imagery seems cheesier than most. Still, the signs again changed this time towards something more positive. The games delay only heightened the childlike excitement building within us, and further increase the "terror" many of us had been storing up for days like this.
As the game began this was a typical Sporting Kansas City performance, they controlled possession and had the majority of chances. Most of those chances were of the half-chance and a prayer variety, but it was obvious that Sporting KC had control of the match. The worries began to spring up spontaneously: Are we pressing too hard and going to lose our stamina as the game goes on? Who is going to get a goal as we attempt shot after shot from distance? Is this bound to be another heart-breaker where we get beat on a goal against the run of play?
Those questions all went against Sporting KC, but still they maintained control of the match. No one scored in the run of play, and the legs did seem to abandon us, though not for running. It was the crossing that lacked power, and after a while drew sounds of exasperation from the crowd as another cross failed to get past the first Sounders defender. As for the goal against the run of play, Seattle didn't exactly get that but all night succeeded on set pieces, yet their best chance was saved brilliantly by Jimmy Nielsen.
The game finally got interesting in a non-soccer fan way in the 84th minute. Teal Bunbury attempted a cross that redirected in the box off of Zach Scott. From my angle (standing on the 18) it was a handball, but due to US Soccer flubbing the highlights, I haven't seen any replays. Scott as any good soldier claims that it hit his side, and that he would raise his hand after a hand ball in the 18. Neither is particularly true, but it was a tough call to make from Ricardo Salazar's position. The resulting Kei Kamara goal seemed to be the stuff of destiny, and the stadium erupted like never before, sending the sizable and admirably far-from-home Sounders faithful in into silence.
The lead and euphoria was short lived and a silence in perfect contrast would blanket the stadium in just a few short minutes. Zach Scott found his redemption on the end of a Mauro Rosales set-piece. Scott perfectly headed in the equalizer unmarked and the game returned to the 0-0 doldrums that consumed the first 85 minutes. As Sporting seemed to push for goals, Seattle constantly was Eddie Johnson taking on Matt Besler and Lawrence Olum, occasionally beating one but never both. Every time acres of space opened Seattle failed to move the ball past the last defenders who had a superb night.
Extra time was much of the same, a exercise in inevitability, Sporting KC demonstrably trying to get a winner, Seattle hoping that at some point the team begins to counter with better passing and can beat the obviously spread out Sporting defense. CJ Sapong continued Teal Bunbury's fine effort of holding up play and getting key set pieces, but Zusi's deliveries seemed off all night. The team never threatened truly on headers instead relying on long shots to trouble Seattle keeper Michael Gspurning.
My brother not being into soccer, but far more omnipotent called the game going to penalties after regulation. I hoped against hope that it did not, because penalties are an inexact science and essentially a crapshoot way of determining a victor (See Chelsea, 2012 Champions League Winners). However, they are great drama and led to the following thoughts.
- KC Pen #1: Kei being Kei. Easy finish despite Gspurning's great reaction the right way.
- Sea Pen #1: Yeah, penalties are too easy.
- KC Pen #2: Why, Roger, why? Are we to be cursed for eternity by some cruel sports God. Who kicks the ball that slowly in a penalty.
- Sea Pen #2: Sometimes, I wonder how many goalies would win PK shootouts by not diving either way and just standing in the middle.
- KC Pen #3: Look at how he's standing over the ball, ten bucks says he kicks it over the bar. (Ball goes just under the bar.) Perfect kick, simply perfect.
- Sea Pen #3: Honey Badger just don't care about shooting on target.
- KC Pen #4: Sorry Zeus, I watched you play all day and you weren't Pirloesque, please never again chip a penalty kick.
- Sea Pen #4: God, we are so doomed.JIMMY!!!!!!!! Where's a stranger to hug/kiss?
- KC Pen #5: We got this, look Paulo's face in bandaged, it's movie script hokie that he's the hero. Perfect finish to an imperfect 120.
At this point, it came down to one man for the Seattle Sounders. Of course, that man was Eddie Johnson. Why wouldn't it be? He unfairly was the recipient of "KC reject" chants from the Cauldron, an understandable but false rewriting of history. Here he had the chance to shove that in their faces, and hold up his team as he had much of the match. The cards seemed to be in his favor, but in front of him, the Cauldron ever at their best roared, and the stadium came into the cacophony in unison. You could say it was pressure or it was just the way it goes some time, but Eddie took his kick confidently. My first thought was it was the same take we saw from Carli Lloyd at last year's Women's World Cup Final. If you hit it hard, no one can stop it, except sometimes the crowd as it veers off into the summer night. There was nothing embarrassing about his miss, but Johnson and the Sounders all felt the wave of emotion come across the field.
There it was, we were champions. Sure, being the US Open Cup, (my brother hilariously asked "what did they win?"), there was a slight asterisk, as we are not yet done with 2012's mission. Yet the overwhelming pride as a fan made every second worth it, including the seven hours on trains and four in cars. The rest of the trophy presentations and laps thanking the fans were just cherries on our victory sundae. The whole team got medals, leading to the hilarious image of Oriol Rosell, just signed last week on the victory podium. Seth Sinovic hopped around the field on one leg, hopefully not injuring himself further. CJ danced as hopelessly Cyprian Hedrick stood there with his leg in a brace. Aurelien Collin looked better than the rest of us, as he always did.
The wall has been painted, just as Robb Heineman promised, but the dreamer in me looks to the lonely figures on the wall next to it. There are still two trophies on the board for 2012 and after the celebration ends and D.C. United comes to town on Saturday the work begins again in earnest. Seattle has paid the price over the years winning the US Open Cup, and has floundered in the season's second half and postseason. It's up to Sporting Kansas City to not repeat that history. In a town of pragmatic cynics, Sporting Kansas City has finally shown us victory, and now who knows we may get used to this winning.