KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Time and again, Real Salt Lake's injury-depleted central defense left Nick Rimando out to dry. And yet, the veteran keeper kept turning away one potential match-winner after another – until the closing minutes of Wednesday night's US Open Cup semifinal, when Sporting Kansas City would no longer be denied.
“I knew we were going to score,” said winger Krisztian Nemeth, whose 85th-minute goal iced Sporting's 3-1 victory and booked their spot in the Sept. 30 title game at Philadelphia. “I missed a few chances, but I kept concentrating. I wanted to score this game. I knew we were going to score, because we're a better team, and we showed it today.”
For RSL, both first-choice center backs Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler were sidelined for Wednesday's match -- Olave with a groin strain and Schuler with knee soreness -- and left back Demar Phillips slowed by a groin strain. Sporting ran riot against the central-defense tandem of Elias Vasquez and Aaron Maund, whose misplayed attempt at a headed back pass led directly to Nemeth's insurance goal.
Still, Rimando had seven saves – and was bailed out once by a goal-line clearance from fullback Tony Beltran on Nemeth's chip early in the second half – and the game was knotted at 1-1 going into the 80th minute.
That's when Sporting forward Dom Dwyer blasted a shot off the left post, the ball fell to wide-open midfielder Benny Feilhaber with Rimando stuck out of position, and Feilhaber fired home his second goal in Cup play and 10th across all competitions for a 2-1 lead.
“Obviously it’s a little worrying when you create chances and don’t put them away,” Feilhaber told reporters during Sporting's postmatch news conference. “You know how soccer is. Sometimes the other team gets one chance, puts it away, and they win the game. That’s something very far in the back of your head but we were able to keep creating chances and put some away in the second half.”
Sporting manager Peter Vermes, also speaking during the news conference, praised Feilhaber's cool finish into the open net.
“One of the things that we have been talking about is getting numbers in the box,” Vermes said. “We wanted to make sure we were on the front foot in this game, and Benny was in a great position to finish it. That’s not an easy finish. There are a lot of guys that blow that ball wide or over the net because they are thinking about it too much. He hit it with a lot of confidence and he stuck it in the back of the net as hard as he could.”
And while giving props to Rimando – who was in goal for RSL when Sporting needed 10 rounds of penalties to win the MLS Cup in 2013 – Vermes also said Dwyer deserved a good deal of credit for the buildup to Feilhaber's match-winner, even though Dwyer's own shot found the woodwork.
“Nick is a great goalkeeper,” Vermes said, “and it’s not just against us. It’s on a consistent basis over the years in this league. He’s been a big part in the good performances Salt Lake has had over time. He’s a very good goalkeeper and he’s not easy to beat, but on that goal Benny scores Dom did an incredible job to run onto goal.”
Dwyer continued his run and took his shot despite being grabbed by Vasquez, earning Vermes' appreciation for his perseverance.
“I can’t tell you how many players would have dove, or stopped, but he just kept trucking to goal,” Vermes said. “The guy is allowed to catch up to him after holding him, he cuts across the grain and hits a great shot.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.