Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sporting KC crowned champions of 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

Sporting Kansas City are champions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the second time in club history, prevailing 3-2 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation against the Seattle Sounders in the 2012 tournament final on Wednesday in front of a sold-out crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

After a scoreless first half, Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara scored the game's opening goal in the 84th minute from the penalty spot after a Zach Scott handball inside the penalty area. Seattle responded two minutes later with a header from Scott off a Mauro Rosales free kick. Both 15-minute extra time periods ended scoreless, leaving kicks from the spot to decide the 99th annual edition of the U.S. Open Cup.

With the crowd behind them, it was Sporting Kansas City with the first chance of the match in the 12th minute from a heavily-marked Kamara from 25 yards out. His angled shot was just wide of the post.

Eager on the counterattack, the Sounders had a chance of their own in the 17th minute. Fredy Montero regained possession after having his run on goal disrupted by Kamara  and bent the ball in from deep on the right wing but Jimmy Nielsen was there to make the save.

Kamara was back at it again in the 24th minute when Paulo Nagamura snatched the ball from Seattle and slotted it to Kamara, who took a dipping shot from 35 yards out that soared over Michael Gspurning and was saved by the woodwork.

Seattle's Andy Rose responded with a long volley of his own three minutes later that soared narrowly over the crossbar.

In the 29th minute, former Sporting Kansas City striker Eddie Johnson expertly headed down a corner from Rosales on goal, but Nielsen dove and pushed Johnson's shot with an even finer save that prompted uproarious applause from the packed crowd.

Johnson was back at it again six minutes later, beating Sporting KC's backline with his speed and taking a low shot from outside the box that was just wide of the far left post.

The home side fought back in the form of a long-distance shot from Seth Sinovic in the 38th minute that hit the side-netting and had the crowd convinced it was a goal upon first inspection. 

It was Sporting Kansas City with the final chance in the first half, coming three minutes into stoppage time when Graham Zusi played a pass back to Olympic hero Roger Espinoza, who took a blasting shot at the top of the box that was feverishly deflected by Gspurning.

Sporting Kansas City opened the second half strong, with a chance just one minute in when Kamara fought his way to the corner flag and crossed the ball to Bunbury at the near post. Bunbury, marked by two men, did his best to create enough space for a shot and forced Gspurning to make the save.

The 61st minute saw an excellent bit of defending from Matt Besler when Johnson tore his way down the left wing and lined up a shot on goal only to see Besler make a perfectly-timed tackle to stop the dangerous opportunity before it could escalate.

Thirteen minutes later, Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso put Sporting's defense to the test when he skirted his way past three men and looked to shoot on the open net when Lawrence Olum blocked the ball out of play with a sliding stop.

Sporting Kansas City's golden opportunity arrived in the form of a penalty kick as a result of handball in the box from Zach Scott in the 82nd minute on a Bunbury cross. Kamara converted the penalty, putting Sporting Kansas City ahead with six minutes remaining in regulation.

It was too soon to crown the home side victors, however, as Seattle fought back in the 86th minute and capitalized on a Rosales set piece with a well-placed header from Scott to level the score in short succession.

Sporting Kansas City nearly bagged a dramatic game-winner in the first minute of stoppage time when second-half substitute C.J. Sapong chipped the ball to Kamara en route to goal, but Kamara's headed shot was just over the crossbar.

With the two sides deadlocked at 1-1 and a trophy on the line, the match went into extra time. Sporting KC won a corner early in the first 15-minute period which Seattle headed out, but Nagamura intercepted and sent in a volley just wide of the goal. 

Despite bouts of pressure and danger from both sides, along with a late ejection to Patrick Ianni after being shown his second yellow card of the match in the 118th minute, neither team could break through. Extra time ended without a goal and the match progressed to penalties.

Sporting KC, shooting first in the best-of-five shootout, began with Kamara's second successful attempt of the night. The Sounders would match it with a make of their own through Brad Evans' shot to his left.

Gspurning gave his team the advantage with a stop on Espinoza and Seattle momentarily led following Marc Burch's blast down the middle. Besler pulled Sporting KC back level with a shot off the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net.

Alonso and Zusi both sent their shots over the crossbar in back-to-back attempts, and Nielsen made a superb save to his left to deny Christian Tiffert to send it to the fifth and final penalty kick with it all to be decided.

Nagamura's initial attempt was saved by Gspurning, but he was ruled to have come off his line early and the Brazilian calmly converted the ensuing second chance to his left to put Sporting KC ahead in dramatic fashion.

Johnson walked to the spot with LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in a frenzy, needing to score to keep Seattle alive. Back in Kansas City for the first time since he played with the then-Wizards in 2007, Johnson's shot sailed over the crossbar and brought an end to the shootout with Seattle's third straight miss from the mark.

Wednesday was the first U.S. Open Cup Final decided after regulation since Sporting Kansas City won the title 1-0 over the Chicago Fire in 2004 on a golden goal by Igor Simutenkov at Arrowhead Stadium. It was also the first U.S. Open Cup championship decided by penalty kicks since 1997 when the then-Dallas Burn prevailed over D.C. United.

Sporting Kansas City will have the team's named engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, the oldest trophy in United States team sports, and earn a berth in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League for the opportunity to compete against the best club teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Wednesday's title snapped a streak of three-straight U.S. Open Cup championships for the visiting Sounders FC and was Seattle's first falter in the competition since joining Major League Soccer in 2009.

This year, the U.S. Open Cup featured the largest field in tournament history with 64 teams -- 32 professional, 32 amateur -- competing for the crown.