If there was a man who was going to find the head of 5’3 Latif Blessing in the oppositions penalty box, it was going to be Graham Zusi. He did, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.
Sporting Kansas City hosted New York Red Bulls in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park. The atmosphere was electric as expected and it played into the matches hectic first 25 minutes. The pace of the game made up for the sloppy play which lead to an entertaining, if anything, opening to the match.
Both teams exchanged body blows with Gerso Fernandes of SKC getting two very good chances to put the home side up before half. The moment finally came in the ’25th minute when the before mentioned Zusi picked out an unmarked Blessing in the box who headed the ball past New York Red Bull keeper Ryan Meara. NYRB coach Jesse Marsch elected to go with second string Meara over typical starter Luis Robles and questions may be asked by the Red Bull faithful on whether the heart prevailed over head in Marsch’s goalkeeper selection. These question’s would become louder in the ’66 minute when first half substitute Daniel Salloi beat Meara to a lovely ball played in outside the eighteen from Benny Feilhaber with Salloi getting just enough on it to see it roll into the Red Bull net and like that it was 2-0.
“Well I had a quick one-two with Seth (Sinovic) and he set me up to just be able to pick up my head and their line was very high, it was probably like forty yards from their goal. I kind of picked my head up hoping somebody would make the run and Daniel read it instantly to make that run and I just thought ‘okay, I’m going to put the ball in that area in between their defense and their goalie and hopefully Daniel can make that run.’ Turned out to be kind of that perfect ball where the goalie has a difficulty in either coming out – not knowing if he should come out or not. He obviously came out and Daniel was just able to kind of toe poke it around him and obviously once he’s able to do that, I knew it was going to trickle in. Daniel did a perfect job in making the run and obviously getting that foot up in front of the goalie,” Feilhaber said postgame.
New York pulled one back in ’91 through Bradley Wright-Phillips but it wasn’t enough and Sporting Kansas City were crowned U.S Open Cup Champions for the fourth time.
SKC manager Peter Vermes had made it a point all season that his Sporting Kansas City side would make it a priority to win every competition available to them.
“Unless you’re in Champions League, and let’s leave that off to the side, which we are in 2019, but because of this win… every year, we start off the year and we talk about the three opportunities that we have to win. There’s Supporters Shield, MLS Cup, and the US Open Cup. Those are three opportunities for us to win. I would never even think any other way other than “we’re going to try to win all three,” Vermes said postgame.
Tyler Adams, the eighteen-year-old Red Bull midfielder was the standout player for the visiting team. He was seemingly everywhere on the pitch and did an excellent job of tracking Latif Blessing down the wing. However, he was out-shined by SKC’s young goalscorer’s Blessing (20) and Salloi (21) who will both look to take this momentum into the final 6 matches of the MLS season
The cup win did come at a cost to Sporting who saw Blessing, Fernandes and striker Diego Rubio all substituted because of injury, but for now, that’s a worry for another day for Peter Vermes.
“If I remember correctly, ninety-nine teams started out in this tournament. So for us to hoist a trophy at the end of the knockout stage, it’s pretty impressive by this group. And to have done it for a third time now, in our new ownership’s tenor, it’s pretty special,” Vermes said.