Sporting Kansas City’s well-deserved 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round had a distinct Swope Park Rangers flavor to it.
Ten players in the matchday 18 — including eight starters — had made at least one appearance for SPR this season.
Three of those 10 have played integral roles for the USL side while patiently waiting for their first-team opportunities. On Wednesday, that trio was given the chance to lift Sporting KC past a hated Western Conference rival in a knockout-style showdown at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Consider the challenge passed with flying colors.
Forward Kharlton Belmar marked his first Sporting KC start with a goal and an assist. Defender Amer Didic, playing his first match for the club since 2016, contributed to a defensive effort that stifled a flummoxed RSL outfit. And goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas highlighted his Sporting KC debut with two big saves and a clean sheet to help the team secure passage to the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, where they will face FC Dallas at 8 p.m. CT on Saturday, June 16, at Children’s Mercy Park.
Belmar, the 25-year-old forward who has bagged a whopping 23 goals since the start of 2017 with the Swope Park Rangers — including a USL-leading eight this season and a club-record 15 last year —set up Russell’s go-ahead goal in the 47th minute and effectively sealed the win with a close-range strike on 74 minutes.
“I thought that from Belmar's perspective, his movement off the ball was really, really good,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said after the game. “He put a lot of pressure on the two central defenders (because) of his movement. He's a powerful dude, he's athletic, he's strong. But at the same time, I think he's got good soccer instincts on the field.”
Joining 16-year-old Gianluca Busio among the Sporting KC debutants was Zendejas. The 22-year-old boasted a remarkable 23-5-6 record and 15 shutouts from 2016-2017 as a member of the Rangers.
“I thought he managed the game well; he played with confidence,” Vermes said of Zendejas. “I think it's a very good step in a positive direction for him coming into the team like he has and playing the game like he did. He was smart (and) composed. It's good to see because that's something we've talked about quite a bit and something that we're trying to work on in training. I thought he was really good at that.”
Like Zendejas, 23-year-old Didic was a standout performer in each of the last two seasons for a Rangers outfit that claimed back-to-back USL Western Conference championships. The 6-foot-4 center back, who earned USL All-League First Team honors as a rookie, delivered a 90-minute shift on Wednesday in his first Sporting KC appearance since starting three games during the Concacaf Champions League group stage in 2016.
Sporting KC will now travel further west to resume the MLS regular season at 9:30 p.m. CT on Saturday against the Portland Timbers FC at Providence Park. The game will air live on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO in addition to radio coverage on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish). Sporting KC supporters are invited to attend the team's official watch party at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power and Light District with food and drink specials beginning 30 minutes before kickoff.