- READ/WATCH: NY Red Bulls Storm Back to End Cinderella FC Cincinnati's #USOC2017 Dream
- READ/WATCH: Sporting KC Go the Distance to Edge San Jose to #USOC2017 Final
- #USOC NEWS: #USOC2017 Final to be Broadcast Live on ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes
San Jose arrived in KC with a simple game plan. Maybe too simple. Plant a man up front, park five across the back and hope for the best. The fact that they survived 120 minutes of play to force penalties after a 1-1 draw was down more to the heroics of Andrew Tarbell than anything drawn up on the tactics board. The Louisiana-born ‘keeper, still just 23, might have been on a trampoline for all the bouncing around he did between the posts. He registered 11 saves and a fair few of those required him to go full-Stretch Armstrong. But when the shootout rolled around, his opposite number stole the show. Tim Melia, the Long Island native who took a hard road to MLS, added two more to the pair of saves he made in regulation and extra-time to win the battle of net-minders and send SKC to their second Open Cup Final in three years. In all, Melia’s only conceded one goal in four Cup games this year. Those are the kind of numbers that lead to trophies.
Hoesen Sends a Message
That one lonely goal Melia’s conceded in nearly 400 minutes of Open Cup play came from the right foot of San Jose’s elegant Dutchman, Danny Hoesen. The lone striker on the night for the Quakes, he raced deep into the host’s defensive third with just four minutes gone. Hoesen outpaced Ike Opara, a tall order for any attacker in Major League Soccer, before coaxing the defender back toward him and turning inside to unleash a low drive from 20 yards. Having honed his talents with two seasons at fabled Amsterdam club Ajax, Hoesen has announced himself in this Open Cup as a rare talent on American shores. Among his three goals in the competition was a brash effort against Seattle Sounders where he took on three defenders and the ‘keeper in a stretch of penalty area the size of a postage stamp.
18-Pass Party Piece
Down a goal but bossing the game, Sporting Kansas City needed something special to beat San Jose’s inspired Tarbell. They found it, and how, with one of the best team goals you’ll ever see. The ball was glued to the home side’s feet and moved all the way up the field and across it, from right to left. Every SKC player (save Melia in goal) touched the ball before Jimmy Medranda beat his man at the edge of the area and crossed low for Diego Rubio to poke home. You can count them. 18 passes from defense to goal. From start to finish. It’s an Open Cup classic and one to remember.
Homegrown Berry Buries One
The other Semifinal pit everyone’s favorite Cinderellas from the Queen City, FC Cincinnati of USL, against New York Red Bulls. And while every member of FCC’s squad (be they from Sydney, Australia or London, England) have been happily adopted by the citizens of the plucky city in Southern Ohio – Austin Berry was born and raised there. “It’s not every day as an athlete that you get to play in your home town, in front of your cousins and old friends up in the stands,” he told ussoccer.com. It was fitting that he scored to make it 2-0 against the visitors from up north. The goal was suited to his no-nonsense approach and the signature style of Cincinnati’s barnstorming soccer revolution. Berry moved like a late-running freight train on a straightaway. He rose at the far post and thundered his header past Ryan Meara to a deafening roar from the 33,225-strong home crowd. With just 15 minutes to go and up 2-0 it was the goal that would take FC Cincinnati to an historic Final, right? Well, not quite…
BWP – the Mark of the Best
Even FC Cincinnati’s all-in-it-together defense was going to have a hard time dealing with Bradley Wright-Phillips. The English-born son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, he’s the kind of striker that kills dreams and romantic Cup runs with a flick of his forehead. And kill he did, with a pair of goals – one to tie it with 12 minutes to go in regulation and one in extra-time to win it. He even managed to slam another header off the underside of the crossbar for good measure. Wright-Phillips now has three goals in his last two Open Cup games – two of them match-winners. He was the difference on this day and soccer fans in Cincinnati will never forget him. Neither will New York Red Bulls fans, and he jumped into the open arms of the few dozen who made the trip to Nippert Stadium after nailing FCC’s coffins shut.
Class in Session After Final Whistle
It’s tough to lose a Semifinal. So close. One step away. You see tears in the Last Four. It’s when hearts are broken. But you see class too. Respect. Sporting Kansas City’s players roared off the midfield stripe to mob their 'keeper Melia after he saved the decisive spot-kick to book a place in the Final. But one man in baby blue peeled off from the crowd. Roger Espinoza, battling midfielder and sometimes captain, stopped short and put his arms around Victor Bernardez, his teammate for Honduras who couldn’t find the net when it counted most. And over in Ohio, Wright-Phillips – the goal predator – made a point to hunt down FC Cincinnati’s coach Alan Koch after the final whistle just to tell him how “amazing” his team was and how hard a fight he had to undo them. And as the Nippert crowd thinned out, Red Bulls players saluted FC Cincinnati fans (who saluted them back) and Red Bulls fans chanted F-C-C. That’s your Open Cup, right there. And it’s rare.
Tears for Souvenirs
While Wright-Phillips was the man for the Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati’s ace in attack had to watch from the stands in street clothes. A foolish yellow card late in the Quarterfinal win over Miami FC meant Senegalese hit-man Djiby Fall missed the Semifinal with suspension. His absence was made all the more apparent when fans unfurled a tifo pre-kickoff with the dreadlocked forward sitting on the Iron Throne made famous in TV’s Game of Thrones. Under it read the words: Djiby Sends His Regards. His four goals, including a winner against Columbus Crew, were crucial in FCC’s magical run to the Semifinal, but all he had to offer on the biggest of nights was tears and hugs and commiseration after the final whistle. One wonders what might have been were he laced up and kitted out – in the game instead of the stands where the sun set purple over FC Cincinnati’s Open Cup dream.
And Then There Were Two
FC Cincinnati captured the imagination with their run to the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal. They stole hearts too. A Division II side, hardly two-years old, went on a tear that we’ll all talk about for years to come. Their huge crowds brought color and style to the competition and their wins over Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew will linger in the memory and stack right up there with the Open Cup’s best upsets. San Jose did their part too, playing with style and verve – a commitment to keeping the ball – not often seen in the rough-and-tumble of Cup competition. But now the two teams that did the most are left standing. Only the Final remains between three-time Open Cup champs Sporting Kansas City and the silverware hunting New York Red Bulls. One of these two big dogs will claim a crown that, at one point, seemed destined to end up with the underdogs.