Just over two years ago, Sporting Kansas City downed Real Salt Lake on penalties to lift the club’s second MLS Cup in the chilly climes of Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Though the two sides have played a number of times since, only Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup Semifinal can come close to the intensity that was felt on that cold December day.
The game was the second final that Real Salt Lake had dropped that year after being upset by lowly D.C. United in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final. The memory is one that RSL captain and U.S. international Kyle Beckerman has held on to ever since.
“I think anytime you play a final somewhere, it’s going to stay in your mind,” he told ussoccer.com. “Of course I think of it -- how close we were to winning on their turf, but you also can’t look too far back. For the most part it’s another game. This is similar where it’s do or die, there’s more on the line to play for than other games this year. We’re familiar with each other, we know how each other play and it will makes for a tight affair.”
Though Dom Dwyer was part of Sporting KC when the club lifted the 2012 U.S. Open Cup Final, he played a bit role for the club that year. The following year’s MLS Cup Final was his first crowning achievement and says it went a long way to spark the current rivalry between the two sides.
“We both remember that game for different reasons,” Dwyer told ussoccer.com. “It’s a fond memory for us and not a happy one for them. They’re a tough team, it’s always a battle against them. I’m very much looking forward to the game and playing against them. I look forward to playing football, doing it in a big game against a rival. That’s what any player wants to do.”
The two clubs have already met their quota of three MLS league matches this season, with RSL holding the 2-0-1 advantage. Called in for the U.S. squad at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Beckerman had to miss the last meeting between the two sides – a 2-1 RSL victory on July 24 – as well as the team’s Round of 16 and Quarterfinal wins against the Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy.
Kyle Beckerman hopes to guide RSL to a second U.S. Open Cup Final in the last three years with a win against SKC on Wednesday night.
Though away on National Team duty, Beckerman watched on as his team utilized the Open Cup to gain a spark at a difficult point of the campaign.
“It was just a really trying period for us in the season,” Beckerman said. “We kind of hit a little lull and the Open Cup gave us a chance to respond from earlier games. We got a big win against Portland then the Galaxy, it helped us get a bit of momentum for the rest of the year.”
That momentum came just in time for RSL to open its CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a 1-0 victory over Guatemalan side Municipal. Having gone to that competition’s final in 2011, the club has placed more emphasis on success in the U.S. Open Cup for the berth it grants to its winner in the annual regional tournament.
“We’ve been to the final of that tournament and got a good taste of it. When it comes down to it, it’s the quickest way to qualify and with that comes extra money and gives your club a bigger audience. With the Open Cup, it’s a chance to lift a trophy and that’s important, but our coaching staff and upper management have taken it a lot more seriously because of what it does for us in CONCACAF.”
While there’s little doubt that Sporting KC would also revel in a return to the Champions League, forward Dom Dwyer, says his side has embraced the history of the competition and what it means to the club’s rabid fan base.
“The Open Cup is a very important competition to us and something we take a lot of pride in,” he told ussoccer.com. “It’s a tournament we won a couple years ago – a lot of guys remember that feeling of lifting the trophy in front of our fans and want to get that taste again.”
After scoring three times on loan to Orlando City during that club’s U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal run in 2013, Dwyer has made the competition a point of personal pride this year with Sporting. The Englishman set a club record by scoring four goals in the team’s 6-2 drubbing of FC Dallas in the Round of 16.
“That was a very special night for me personally and for the club,” Dwyer said. “Obviously it’s nice to score whenever you can and I was definitely feeling it that night. We have a very strong team and that’s pretty much part of it. We’re going to get chances and my job is to manage to put them away.”
In the Quarterfinal weeks later against the Houston Dynamo, Dwyer had a penalty saved, but earned redemption by tallying an 86th minute winner in the 3-1 victory. His five goals have him leading the tournament’s Golden Boot race.
Beckerman is well aware of the danger Dwyer provides Sporting Kansas City, lauding the forward for his recent rise over the last two seasons.
“Dom is a player that doesn’t stop moving, he’s constantly working off the ball, working for the ball,” he said. “He does a lot of defensive stuff that goes unnoticed for Sporting. When they say defending from front to back, Dom’s truly doing that. That ultimately helps them pressure and their whole team plays better because of it. He’s doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t come up in a stats sheet, but when you get him a chance in front of goal, he’s burying it. He’s really coming into his own and becoming a top striker in this league – one we’ll definitely have to keep an eye on.”
While last week’s draw means that Wednesday’s game will be Sporting KC’s last home match of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the opportunity for RSL to host the final is there, if they can win and the Chicago Fire fall to the Philadelphia Union. Though the extra potential carrot of hosting another final at home is there for Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, he was adamant that the focus remains solely on just getting to the tournament’s championship game.
“We really just focus on getting into the final. The only thing we can control is to put ourselves in the final. If it’s home it’s great. If it’s away, we’re okay with it. We just want to get to the dance. We know if we can get there, we’ll have a chance to win.”