Sporting Kansas City will play for U.S. Open Cup glory on Wednesday night when they host the New York Red Bulls at 8 p.m. CT. Almost two years ago, Manager Peter Vermes' men were in a very similar position.
On Sept. 30, 2015, Sporting KC edged the Philadelphia Union in a pulsating penalty shootout to hoist the club’s third U.S. Open Cup title. The teams played to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes at rainy Talen Energy Stadium before the visitors prevailed 7-6 on spot kicks.
In the space below, four notable individuals share their memories of the euphoric evening. ESPN commentator Adrian Healey provided the play-by-play call for the match, while longtime Kansas City defender and Sporting Legend Jimmy Conrad attended the match as a supporter. Current goalkeeper Tim Melia and former midfielder Jordi Quintilla, meanwhile, played valuable roles in Sporting KC’s victory.
Healey: I remember feeling the pressure was very much on the Union. They were at home, they were out of the MLS playoff picture, and this was their big shot to win the first trophy in team history. They had lost the final at home the year before vs. Seattle, and I remember thinking they had managed to heap even more pressure on themselves with the hashtag #UnfinishedBusiness.
Sporting KC seemed very calm and measured by contrast. There was definitely a "We've been here before and we know what we're doing" vibe emanating from the team. Not overconfidence. Just a steely conviction that they would get it right on the night.
Conrad: As a player, you actually have control over the outcome of the game. As a fan, you have no control whatsoever, so that makes it pretty difficult being in the stands. You have to accept that you're at the mercy of the whims and decisions of the guys on the field. I knew Sporting KC had players a lot more talented than I used to be, so that brought me some comfort.
Quintilla: During the national anthem before the game, that’s when I realized how big everything could be that night. I could feel everyone’s nervousness.
Healey: Both teams were pretty settled and at full strength. The one big decision was the Union going with Andre Blake in goal rather than the local lad John McCarthy who, although the No. 2 goalkeeper, had played every game in the 2015 Open Cup and been massive in a couple of penalty shootout wins.
Healey: From the outset, the Union looked hungrier, as if they had a lot more riding on it. Paulo Nagamura hit the post early on for KC, but after that it was all Philadelphia. Ex Kansas City striker (C.J.) Sapong should have given them the lead before but, inevitably, it was Sebatian Le Toux who did so. The Frenchman was, and still is, the leading scorer all-time in the Open Cup, and he got on the end of a superb Vincent Nogueira ball to finish past Melia. And then he nearly did so again in a carbon copy move later in the first half. Tim Melia had his work cut out to keep the deficit to one at halftime.
Conrad: I felt gutted when Le Toux scored because I felt like it could have been defended a little bit better.
Healey: The rain started to fall in the second half, and maybe that's what brought Sporting to life as they looked a different side over final 30 minutes. Zusi had already come close once before, and his little touch in the box teed up Kristian Nemeth for a sublime finish. It was one of those strikes for which the TV audience had the perfect view, and there was never any doubt from the moment he hit it that it was curling in beyond Blake.
Melia: Krisztian’s goal sticks out in my head. It was such a good strike. Zusi rolls it across, then Krisztian just finessed it and curled it around the defender and then right into the side of the netting.
Quintilla: The moment when I was going to get into the game, it started pouring. And it kept raining during all of extra time.
Healey: Of course, the big talking point was (Philadelphia head coach) Jim Curtin's switching of goalkeepers just before the end of extra time, bringing on John McCarthy to try and replicate his PK shootout heroics. Ironically, I had called the World Cup quarterfinal the year before in Brazil when Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal did exactly the same thing by bringing on Tim Krul for the shootout vs. Costa Rica. It had worked a treat for the Netherlands.
Quintilla: The order for penalty kicks was quickly decided before the shootout. We had been practicing PKs throughout the previous week and we kind of knew who was going to take them. No team plans to get into PKs in any game. That is why most of the time it is decided right before.
Melia: For me (the shootout) is fun. It’s an opportunity. During games, you can’t always control what’s going on. You can’t always control scoring and at times you can’t control getting scored on, so with penalties you have a little bit more control of your own destiny. So I wouldn’t say it’s a negative thing, it’s something that I enjoy.
Healey: It was 2-2 after a couple of misses, and Philly were shooting first. Each time they scored, it heaped huge pressure on the next man up to keep Sporting alive. First it was Matt Besler, then Nagamura, then Zusi, then finally Kevin Ellis. Each time, knowing a miss would be fatal, the KC player took a strong, cool, confident penalty. Each time John McCarty went the right way but couldn't get a hand to them. It broke the back of the Union.
Melia: I was not concerned about our shooters. I actually have — and I’m not just saying this — a lot of confidence in our shooters. Because every penalty kick shootout that I’ve been in here with Sporting KC, the shots have been almost perfect. The guys were hitting top corner and places where goalkeepers aren’t going to save it, so I have a ton of confidence in our shooters. I don’t even think about it. Half the time I don’t even watch it. I’ll watch it on the videoboard.
Sporting KC and Philadelphia entered the eighth round of penalty kicks tied 6-6 when the Union’s Andrew Wenger stepped to the spot. Melia saved the attempt, giving Sporting KC’s Jordi Quintilla the opportunity to convert the game-winning penalty.
Healey: (Philadelphia forward) Andrew Wenger was up before Quintilla, and looked like a bundle of nerves who would rather be anywhere else. The save for Tim Melia was almost routine.
Quintilla: Nothing was going through my mind (before the penalty kick). It was like everything had stopped. I don't remember hearing anything from outside. I don't even remember the walk to take the ball. I was so focused on scoring. At first I didn't know where to kick, but all of a sudden I saw the space. I reduced the distance between the ball and me to make it faster and not let the keeper make any reaction.
I decided (placement over power) when I put the ball in to the spot. And probably because I feel more comfortable to place it than to smash it. I saw the space and I knew I just needed a simple touch to score.
Quintilla promptly dispatched the penalty kick past McCarthy, securing Sporting KC’s third Open Cup title and queuing a wild celebration in the corner of Talen Energy Stadium near the Sporting KC supporters end, where nearly 1,000 fans had traveled for the match.
Healey: Qunitilla rolled home the winner, and my immediate reaction on air was, "Just call them a Dynasty." Three major trophies in four years. Not many teams in any sport in North America can claim that distinction. And it remains a treasured memory to have seen them do it.
Quintilla: I have two big moments in my career so far. The first one was the preseason with the first team of FC Barcelona and playing against FC Bayern in a full Allianz Arena in Germany. But the best one, without a doubt, is the Open Cup Final. And it will be difficult to be beaten as the best.
Conrad: My favorite moment that night was when we won the shootout, of course. But a close second was when the players brought the trophy over to the fans after the game was over, which I thought was an incredible gesture because it made everyone feel like we were all in this together.