Beyond The Box Score: Tremendous team effort decides Open Cup classic

Anyone who witnessed Tuesday night’s spectacle between Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas won’t soon forget it.

Red cards, near misses, controversial moments, heart-stopping injury scares and finally — in the late stages of extra time — a barrage of goals that sent Children’s Mercy Park into a euphoric frenzy.

All of which coming two days after the passing of the iconic entrepreneur Neal Patterson, Sporting Kansas City’s co-owner and the long-time Chairman and CEO of Cerner Corporation.

Without further ado, let’s revisit the biggest statistical talking points to emerge from an instant classic that sent Sporting Kansas City to the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals with a 3-0 triumph.

Conquerors of the Cup

Nothing — absolutely nothing — about Tuesday’s victory was easy. Sporting Kansas City played a man down for 86 minutes, the result of Seth Sinovic’s red card in the 15th minute, but managed to keep FC Dallas off the score sheet and force extra time. That’s when the visitors had two men sent off themselves, and that’s when the floodgates opened.

Latif Blessing scored twice and Daniel Salloi’s late third was the icing on the cake, rounding out a 3-0 result that puts Sporting KC in contention to join a very elite club. Just one team during the modern era of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has hoisted the championship without conceding a single goal in the tournament. D.C. United needed only three shutout wins to claim Open Cup glory in 1996.

Sporting Kansas City’s task is tougher. The current format of the competition requires MLS clubs to win five matches. Manager Peter Vermes’ men have yet to allow a goal through three games, outscoring their opponents 9-0. Goalkeeper Tim Melia is responsible for all three clean sheets, although plenty of credit will go to a determined group of field players that stifled Minnesota United FC and Houston Dynamo in earlier rounds before keeping FC Dallas at bay on Tuesday night. Two more shutout wins would see the club accomplish an extremely rare and astounding feat.

Three’s Company

Tuesday’s thrilling encounter marked the 25th time that Sporting Kansas City has gone to extra time in a competitive match. Never before had the club scored three goals in a single extra time session, but that changed thanks to a deluge of strikes during a frantic overtime period in which FC Dallas’ Maxi Urruti and Javier Morales were ejected by referee Younes Marrakchi.

Fewer numbers on the pitch, coupled with collective fatigue from players on both sides, effectively opened up the game and allowed Blessing and Salloi to stamp their name on proceedings in the final stages.

Two at Twenty

In last Thursday’s 1-1 league draw against the Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City started three players aged 20 or younger for the first time ever in a competitive match: Blessing, Salloi and Erik Palmer-Brown. The same trio were involved Tuesday — albeit with Salloi coming off the bench — and more history was made when he and Blessing found the back of the net. For the first time in Kansas City’s 22-year existence, two 20-year-olds scored goals in the same match. Needless to say, this paints a bright picture for the future at Children’s Mercy Park.

Latif Lets it Rip

Blessing not only scored twice. He was a constant, unrelenting menace to the FC Dallas defense, using a tireless motor to wreak havoc throughout the night. By the full-time whistle, the young Ghanaian had racked up 10 shot attempts, the most by a Sporting KC player in a competitive match since Kei Kamara logged 11 on March 25, 2012.

In addition to scoring four goals this season, Blessing has started the last six matches in all competitions and continues to show improved aptitude at the MLS level, both in his fitness and his impact on the game.

Benny Off the Bench

When regulation ended without a goal from either side, Sporting Kansas City was still playing down a man. At that point in time, Vermes could have opted for a defensive substitution to shore up gaps and force penalty kicks. Instead, he inserted arguably the best playmaker on the team.

Benny Feilhaber’s extra-time cameo turned the game on its head, as the veteran midfielder added an extra dimension to Sporting KC’s attack and ultimately held the key that unlocked an FC Dallas defense. Feilhaber ended up assisting two of the team’s three extra-time strikes — his seventh and eighth for SKC in Open Cup competition — and now has four more assists in the tournament than any other player in club history.

Excellent EPB

Supporters will have their fingers crossed that center back Ike Opara will make a quick and full recovery from the concussion he suffered on Tuesday night. At the same time, they’ll also have the comfort of knowing that his replacement is more than capable of filling in admirably.

Palmer-Brown turned in a sterling defensive performance that illustrated why U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos gave him the captain’s armband earlier this year at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and FIFA U-20 World Cup. Palmer-Brown hardly put a foot wrong, completing 31 of 33 passes while winning three duels and recording seven clearances, three interceptions and three blocks—all while not committing a single foul the entire game.

Roger Racks Up Minutes

An indefatigable 120-minute outing from Roger Espinoza—who wielded the captaincy on Tuesday in Matt Besler’s absence — took his career total to 1,534 minutes played in the U.S. Open Cup. That number now ranks first all-time, passing long-time midfielder and current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin (1,453 minutes).

Stars Aligning?

Whether you believe in fate or not, it’s hard to ignore the positive vibes emerging from Sporting Kansas City’s current Open Cup campaign. Supporters will be hoping that history repeats itself, as the previous two times the team defeated FC Dallas in Open Cup competition, it went on to win the tournament title. That happened in 2004 and 2015.

And if we look ahead to the semifinal matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes, the history books continue to paint a positive picture. Kansas City has faced San Jose just once in the Open Cup — a semifinal showdown in 2004 that came weeks before KC’s first Open Cup championship.

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