USOC Corner: The FinalSeattle and Kansas City provide theatrics in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final
by Daniel Casey | Thursday, August 09, 2012
This year has seen a dramatic spike in the popularity in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Early on it was the unexpected success of Cal FC that drew headlines. The entirely amateur side created solely for the purpose of the Cup tournament, and guided by the hand of Fox Soccer analyst and MLS great Eric Wynalda, made it through to the fourth round before losing out to defending champions Seattle. But Cal FC wasn’t the only story of the Cup.
Third tier side Harrisburg City of USL PRO was able to knock off two MLS sides (New England and New York) in extra time before being overcome by Philadelphia. The Michigan Bucks of the fourth tier PDL were able to upset last year’s runner-up the Chicago Fire before exiting the tournament in the fourth round. The Columbus Crew and Dayton Dutch Lions played the first ever Ohio Derby. USL PRO’s Charlotte Eagles were able to vanquish every opponent from Texas that they faced (El Paso Patriots of the PDL, MLS’s FC Dallas, and the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions) until a revamped Chivas USA showed them the door. And the defending NASL Champions Minnesota Stars and their league mates the Atlanta Silverbacks made some waves by ‘selling’ their home draws to their MLS opponents. In Minnesota’s case the deal was a win-win as they beat Real Salt Lake to move on, such wasn’t the case for Atlanta.
Players made themselves known through the tournament. Cal FC’s Danny Barrera, who had four goals for the tournament, ended up signing with the Atlanta Silverbacks, and other players inspired their own team like the Carolina Railhawk’s Brian Shriver who with five goals to lead the tournament in scoring.
The US Open Cup has never had a television deal, but thanks to Cal FC’s success and Eric Wynalda’s connections, the fourth round match between Seattle Sounders and Cal FC was carried by Fox Soccer Channel. The response that this got must have certainly been a factor in GolTV deciding to step-up and televise this year’s final and pick up the next two finals as well.
While details are still miniscule on the GolTV deal, we all hope that soon the United States Soccer Federation will work to land a deal to televise the entire US Open Cup. After all, it is our only national tournament and next year will be its centenary.
The Final saw the Seattle Sounders looking to win their fourth straight Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Doing so would have surpassed the current ‘Kings of the Cup’ Chicago Fire and would have been a truly unprecedented four-peat. Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City was looking to win its second Cup, which was the last piece of silverware won by the club back in ’04. Both team’s supporters were in voice at Livestrong Park…at least at first.
The match seemed to settle early on and while one couldn’t call it quiet that descended on the stadium one would have to say a certain malaise overtook everyone after the thirtieth minute. It was then that we all began to realize that this match wasn’t going to be pretty or even excitingly ugly. Seattle came out of the gate looking to fall and foul often and with incredulity. It was an effective tactic, given that Kansas City was never able to string together a significant attack—except for one gloriously ambitious strike from more than 30 yards out by Kei Kamara. Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso made his voice a constant in the ear of the referee (which fortunately and justifiably earned him a yellow card). Kansas City’s Pablo Nagamura suffered the most obviously from Seattle’s physical play when he sustained a cut on his cheek that required continual attention throughout the remainder of the game. Nagamura was then easily identified as the bloke with the gauze pad on his face.
Even though Seattle seemed to be almost Chelsea-esque in their tactics, they never once tried to attack during the first half. The Sounders seemed entirely content to allow Kansas City to have the majority of possession and dictate the tempo of the match.
Unfortunately, Kansas City never seemed able to gather their thoughts and focus a clear attack. Time and again, Seattle was able to rebuff Sporting’s attempts. It got to the point where Kansas City seemed to look only for desperately hopeful shots from distance. The close of the first half was welcome because at least the second half held the promise of improvement.
A promise not quite broken but hardly fulfilled. The beginning of the second half continued to see a frowning Sigi Schmid and an anemic Seattle attack. The frenetic if not spastic pace on both sides proved to be less than productive. Finally, the chippy Sounders flinched. Zach Scott was called for a handball in the box, surrendering a penalty kick that was far too easy for Kei Kamara to convert. It could certainly be argued that the call was a bit harsh, as it certainly wasn’t blatant or intentionally. However, the call was the right one. And apparently it was enough of a spark to turn around the lackluster Seattle attack. Not two minutes later Scott redeemed himself by scoring the equalizer with a brilliant header from a Mauro Rosales free kick.
Whereas Sounder fans could complain about the handball call against them and find some reasonable quarter, replays clearly showed Scott was offside. Fortunately for the Seattle, no call was made.
That non-call led the match to territory that has been well trod this year by the Cup –Added Extra Time (AET). Lucky 13, that’s the number of US Open Cup matches that went to AET this year. Previous matches in the tournament that had lead down this path afforded spectators with some late dramatics. So, staring down the barrel of 120 minutes the 18,863 in attendance were awarded with more footy for their buck. AET was a good omen for Kansas City as there hadn’t been an extra time match for the final since Kansas City had previous won it in 2004.
Again defending champions Seattle failed to put together any kind of attack leaving Sporting to dictate the tempo. Unfortunately, Kansas City continued to fail to finish. Routinely, Sporting saw their attack sputter out just as it reached the final third. Much credit has to be given to Seattle’s midfield; they were tough and refused to allow anyone into the box. Regrettably, the unevenness that Seattle has displayed all season haunted them throughout the match. Fredy Montero was a non-factor, Osvaldo Alonso barely ever came out of the defensive third and Eddie Johnson was completely shut down. The match’s length took its first casualty in the 100th minute when Seth Sinovic finally succumbed to the panicked jostling and had to go off with an ankle injury. Then in the 118th minute the game took its next casualty when centerback Patrick Ianni earned his second yellow card and was sent off. It proved have little effect as Sporting failed to take advantage and the match went to penalty kicks.
A US Open Cup final hadn’t gone to penalty kicks since 1997 when FC Dallas faced DC United. So, once again, the crowd was given even more soccer. Drama always accompanies a penalty shootout. Seattle and Kansas City certainly gave the nearly twenty thousand watching some choice theatre. Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning stopped Sporting’s second kick taken by Roger Espinosa (a man that somehow had kept going the whole match even though he was running on fumes following Honduras’s Olympic run) and when Marc Burch converted Seattle’s second it looked like things were going the Sounders’s way. But that sense didn’t last long. Alonso successfully sent his penalty kick into orbit. Then just as quickly Graham Zusi made one of the worst decisions ever, he decided to try to chip his kick over Gspurning. A sad arch gently avoided the entire goal and landed in the stands. Seattle’s new Designated Player signing Christian Tiffert stepped up and had his kick saved by Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen.
This put a gauzed Paulo Nagamura in the position to put his side ahead. And now more theatrics, this time thanks to USSF referee. Nagamura’s kick was stopped by Gspurning, but then the referee Ricardo Salazar called it back. Gspurning was whistled for coming off his line early; Nagamura retook the kick and converted it. Now it can be reasonably argued that Gspurning hadn’t come off his line any more than Jimmy Neilsen had his (see pic below). But perhaps the Seattle ‘keeper was called for encroaching because he not only started a good foot off his line but also proceeded to take a couple of more steps before the whistle. Neilsen may have been standing a foot off his line prior to the whistle but he stayed put.
Photo via Twitter @darth_greedo
The point quickly became moot when Eddie Johnson stepped up and decided to outdo Alonso. Johnson sent his kick soaring. With that, Sporting Kansas City had won their second US Open Cup 3-2 on PKs in their home park.