2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final celebration

The 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final offers Sporting Kansas City the chance to write the next great chapter in club history.

Five major trophies currently adorn the team’s trophy cabinet, and a sixth is within touching distance as Sporting Kansas City squares off against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday at PPL Park.

Longtime supporters will forever revere the 2000 Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners as one of the franchise’s best teams ever, while dramatic triumphs in the 2012 Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup resonate strongly among those who have backed the club since its transition to Sporting Park.

The space below, however, is dedicated to recalling Kansas City’s first U.S. Open Cup victory in 2004. It may be the team’s least celebrated title of the five, but it’s a match that has stuck with players, coaches and pundits who were involved.

The 2004 U.S. Open Cup Final pitted two rivals against one another as the Kansas City Wizards hosted the Chicago Fire at Arrowhead Stadium. The hosts prevailed 1-0 thanks to folk hero Igor Simutenkov’s game-winning goal in the fifth minute of sudden-death extra time. Sitting in the stands was Lamar Hunt, Kansas City’s owner at the time and the American soccer pioneer for whom the tournament is named.

Ahead of Wednesday’s showdown in Philadelphia, we spoke with notable individuals who remember the evening of Sept. 22, 2004—an evening that brought Kansas City its first championship in American soccer’s oldest, most storied competition.

Lead-up to the Final

"It was a bit of a transition period for both teams, but KC was flying high in both the league and the cup. And they still had legends like [Tony] Meola, [Jimmy] Conrad, [Davy] Arnaud and [Kerry] Zavagnin leading the team. Plus Josh Wolff and Diego Gutierrez going up against their old Chicago side.

"While Chicago was struggling in league, you have to remember they were still basically the same team that came one game away from a treble the year before and was still doing well in the CONCACAF Champions League while making their run to the Open Cup Final. And they had Andy Williams, one of the most creative players in MLS history, and Damani Ralph who was still on his up-side, and such an amazing striker before his injury."
-- Phil Schoen, American soccer commentator who called the match on Gol TV

"We had a very experienced group. We competed in MLS Cup final that year as well so we put together a good run certainly toward the end of the season. The experience we had within the group -- certainly with (Tony) Meola, Jimmy Conrad, Davy Arnaud, Jack Jewsbury -- these are all guys that played for a long time, played in big moments. We had the right blend of young and old and I think that helped us, not only in that season, but certainly in a final."
-- Josh Wolff, 2004 Kansas City forward

A competitive match unfolds

"I don’t know that I had any big saves in that game, but I had a lot of plays -- I had a lot of stuff to do. There was a play early in the game, and a Chicago player [Logan Pause] came in on a half breakaway to my left and shot it wide. And I thought in lining it up, he had a better angle on it than I did as a goalkeeper. And when he missed it I thought to myself, 'Man, this might be our night. This might be the night we finally get this thing done.'" 
-- Tony Meola, 2004 Kansas City goalkeeper

"I remember it at the old Arrowhead Stadium, the big huge football stadium. It was a big, high-pressure game like all finals are. It was a bit an ugly game with a long feeling-out process between the two teams."
-- Jim Curtin, 2004 Chicago defender and current head coach of the Philadelphia Union

"It was a tough game. The field wasn't in the best condition. I know it was well into the football season. Anytime you're playing a final, no matter what you've done leading up to that, the game always carries out in a very different manner. We have since seen this in the 2013 championship and even looking back on our 2000 championship, that defense is the key to winning and certainly that game proved it as well. The defense held up strong."
-- Kerry Zavagnin, 2004 Kansas City defender and current Sporting KC assistant coach

"MLS Cup obviously carries a certain weight. But the Open Cup, when you’re in the final, it has meaning and relevance. And it’s only gained in meaning and relevance as time has gone on. It being Lamar Hunt’s [tournament], he was still alive and still with us and he’d done so much for the game. It was certainly memorable and meaningful. Finals are certainly tight and they’re cagey, and it was another that came down to the very end about making plays."
-- Wolff

"We played really well, I thought, throughout that whole tournament. We played a familiar team in the Chicago Fire who were very talented and we thought we had a few opportunities to win it in regular time and then Igor Simutenkov had that free kick."
-- Jimmy Conrad, 2004 Kansas City defender and 2014 Sporting Legend inductee

"I actually made a mistake at the top of the box on a corner kick that we had. That allowed them to get a counter which got them a foul just outside the box." 
-- Jesse Marsch, 2004 Chicago midfielder and current New York Red Bulls head coach

Igor Simutenkov's 95th-minute free kick

"I remember C.J. Brown marking me, and I just wanted the game to end. We were all tired and we didn’t want it to go to penalties where it’s just a coin flip when that happens."
-- Conrad

"On that free kick, they hit it through the wall, and then it hit off our goalie and sort of just popped right up...and that was the winning goal. I remember being very disappointed by how it all kind of fell apart, but Kansas City had a good team that year. Finals can be like that. One play can mean so much. That's why you've got to be ready for anything."
-- Marsch

"Igor's goal, that's the one that I can remember. It was with his right foot from the top of the box, maybe a little further out. He was a very technical player and he had done that time and time again at training, so it wasn't something uncharacteristic for him. We were happy for him and certainly happy for us that he came through at a very important time."
-- Zavagnin

"While the goal was memorable, both in its significance and how it managed to cross the line, this was a game that was dominated by defense. While KC eventually gained control of the possession and rhythm of the game, both defenses did such a great job at protecting their goals. Even when the game went to extra time and the Fire were forced back, it seemed as though the game was destined to be decided by a shootout. It was going to take something special to beat either keeper and Simutenkov was able to deliver."
-- Schoen

Post-game celebrations

"That game meant so much to us because it had our owner’s name on it. We had talked about it all year that that was a priority because that was a trophy that we hadn’t won and it was such a special night. I remember it being cold that night and the fans were so into it and then of course Igor’s goal in the end. It was incredible to have been part of that. For me personally, it was a trophy that had sort of eluded me for a while and we sure made it a priority in 2004 and it worked out for us."
-- Meola

"[Lamar Hunt] was still alive and we won it at Arrowhead, the stadium he helped build, and to do that in front of him, he was so excited when we won the title. I just remember getting the biggest hug from him and remembering what a special moment that was and just how proud he was. He was obviously a big timer in the world of football and very well known in the sports world so for him to -- and I don’t want to cheapen it -- but to kind of come down to our level essentially and give us his time and his passion really came through and it was really neat to share that moment with him.

"That was my second trophy but my first with Kansas City, and it was a really incredible experience. And not only was Lamar Hunt proud, there’s nothing like accomplishing a goal you set out to accomplish and do it. That follow-through is always an incredible feeling, and I think everyone who’s done that before would say the same. Being able to hold the trophy and spray champagne and all that good stuff is always fun and something I’ll never forget."
-- Conrad

"I remembered Lamar Hunt being in the locker room afterwards. I have more memories probably of that than of the actual game. A guy that had done so much for the sport, but on a personal level was always right there for the guys and congratulating you in victories, but also there to help pick you up in the end of seasons. I have loads of respect for him and his family and what they’ve done for the sport."
-- Wolff

​The Open Cup's place in American soccer

"We had always put a lot of emphasis on the competition. Obviously with Lamar Hunt being our owner and Bob Gansler having such a history in our country, we put a lot of value into the tournament. We addressed every game from the beginning as a must-win game. It's a knockout tournament, so we put out as strong a lineup up as we could have every game and we took it very seriously."
-- Zavagnin

"When I think back to the Open Cup, it's a special competition. There's only a few trophies you can lift in this country and the Open Cup is one of them. I took it seriously and because of the people in Chicago, they kind of instilled that in me, and I'm carrying that over with me to Philadelphia."
-- Curtin

"As a fan of the long -- sometimes forgotten -- rich history of soccer in the United States, I love the Open Cup and what it represents. And to have Kansas City competing for the trophy that was named in honor of a man who has meant so much to the Kansas City sports scene was also something special."
-- Schoen