It’s been eight years since the Kansas City Wizards hoisted their only Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, after Igor Simutenkov’s free kick in extra time gave them a 1-0 golden-goal victory over the Chicago Fire – in front of only 8,819 fans in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium.
Since then, the players on that team have all moved on – some to other clubs, some to coaching, some out of the sport entirely.
Only Sporting Kansas City assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, who went the distance for the Wizards in that victory, is still affiliated with the rebranded club, which will play Seattle for the Cup on Wednesday night at a sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park. MLSsoccer.com sat down with the former midfielder last week to talk about that Cup run and Sporting’s path to the 2012 final.
MLSsoccer.com: As this final approaches, has the 2004 Cup run been going through your head?
Zavagin: A little bit. Obviously, the most vivid moment is the end result. Having the final at home, at Arrowhead, although it wasn’t a packed house in those days, we did have good support throughout the game. It was an electrifying game from our perspective, having the final at home. I remember that feeling. And to put on top of that the way we won the game, it was a satisfying feeling. But as I say, you remember the result at the end of the game and not all the hard work that it took to get there.
MLSsoccer.com: What moments do you remember from the match itself?
Zavagin: There are a few things. I think going into the final, we had a strong idea of who we were and what our strengths were. Obviously, you have to make a good run in the Open Cup to get to the final, but in league play we were having a decent run. We went all the way to the [MLS Cup] finals. It was a solid team with a solid identity and a solid understanding of what we were good at. Finals sometimes have a tension to them, to where they’re not the most attractive soccer. I think both teams were apprehensive to not concede, not make the mistake that would deny them the championship. That goes for all finals. I think that game played out the way a Cup final would, and that’s what I remember from it.
MLSsoccer.com: Did that result give you a bump in league play and help you reach the MLS Cup final?
Zavagin: Yeah, it can go either way. Before the season starts, you talk about what you want to accomplish as a team. And if you talk about only winning a championship – a championship – the season can end right there. You can forget to do your business after that. But on the flip side, it can lead you on to bigger and better things. Confidence is a big thing in this league.
MLSsoccer.com: When you look at the fan buzz for this match, compared to what it was in 2004, does it even compare?
I can’t compare a [current] league game to a Cup final. The atmosphere that we have for just a random July night against Columbus was a better atmosphere than the Cup final in 2004. That’s not to take away from what the team did on the night of the final. I think it’s more of a credit to what’s been established here. I think we got a taste of a big moment last year in the Eastern Conference final. The team and the organization got a taste of what that excitement and tension feels like. That experience gives the guys a little bit of an understanding on what it takes to finish the job off.
MLSsoccer.com: The game also comes with a bigger prize now, doesn’t it, with the CONCACAF Champions League berth?
Zavagin: It does. In our business, in what we do, with what our fan base has done for us since we came into the new stadium last June, and you see the boost it’s given our players, our staff, our organization – they deserve that. Our ownership group, for what they’ve done, for giving us all the resources that we need to be successful, they deserve that. And the players, for all their hard work, they deserve that. So in one 90-minute game, you can really put an exclamation point on what’s been accomplished in this short amount of time. Not only an exclamation point, but a statement of where this organization is going.