Sporting Kansas City’s captain Matt Besler had a busy night in the Final of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer club championship. The U.S. National Team defender and Kansas native kept things tight at the back, resisting the menace of New York Red Bulls’ ace marksman Bradley Wright-Phillips and their elegant playmaker Sacha Kljestan. Amid the celebrations, fireworks and blue confetti at Children’s Mercy Park, the good-natured skipper took a few minutes to talk to ussoccer.com about what it means to bring another title to Kansas City.
ussoccer.com: It’s another Open Cup title for Sporting Kansas City. That makes it four in all. How does it feel to be a part of a club that has never lost an Open Cup final?
Matt Besler: This is what it’s all about. These are the nights you live for as a soccer player. Here with these fans right now and my teammates, celebrating a win like this is the reason why you even play this game.
ussoccer.com: The game had a physical edge from the start. The tackles were flying in and no one on either team gave any quarter. Did you expect the game to play out the way it did?
MB: It was a tough game. Everyone was working for everything and it was clear that both teams were committed and trying their all to win this Cup. Both teams were really aggressive in their tackles and it really played out like a classic cup final. I felt like this was the kind of game we were going to have tonight and we were good enough to get through it in the end. But it was never easy.
ussoccer.com: The New York Red Bulls didn’t go quietly. They were pressing hard at the end with the score at 2-1 and it looked like an equalizer might be in the cards…
MB: You have to credit the Red Bulls for the effort they put in, but at the end of the day we did what we needed to do and it was enough for us to win. You can never predict how a final is going to go, but you can be sure they’re not going to be easy. None of our games in this Open Cup were easy. We had to work for everything. And this one went our way tonight and I don’t really have the words to describe what I’m feeling right now.
ussoccer.com: It seemed like there was a special feeling to this Sporting Kansas City team from the start of the Open Cup campaign. Would you say there was something like destiny about this Cup run?
MB: I would. It started in our first game. We really felt like something special was happening with us. There was a real special feeling in the locker room and around the club. When we played in Dallas and had to be a man down for almost 90 minutes, there was something about winning that game with all of that going against us, that just made it seem like we were headed for something great.
ussoccer.com: The SKC Family suffered a loss not long before that FC Dallas game…
MB: One of our owners, Neal Patterson, passed away a week before the Dallas Quarterfinal. It was a tough thing for the club and for everyone connected to it. I’d just like to dedicate this win to him.
ussoccer.com: You’re getting to be an old hand at winning Cups – MLS Cups and Open Cups. How does this one measure up to the rest?
MB: Any Cup feels just as sweet as the one before. It never gets old. I don’t even know how I feel right now – I’m still in a haze about it. I haven’t had a minute to even digest it. We’re trying to win as many of these things as we can before we’re done playing. Nothing compares to the feeling.
ussoccer.com: Latif Blessing, a young man with a lot of talent, had a big night. In a team with many experienced leaders, it must be satisfying to see one of the youngsters step up in such a big way…
MB: Latif stepped up tonight. He was a threat from the opening whistle. It was unfortunate that he had to leave the game with an injury, but he certainly made his mark on it. He imposed his will while he was in there. We couldn’t ask any more of him.
ussoccer.com: What do you have to say to the fans that have been such a huge part of your 2017 Open Cup campaign and all of the success that has come to this club?
MB: I just want to say “thank you” to all of them. They are our twelfth man, they are our lifeblood, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter. We owe a lot to these fans right here. They’re just the best. They’re always there for us. You can’t find better fans anywhere.
HIGHLIGHTS: Sporting KC Wins Fourth U.S. Open Cup Crown with 2-1 vs. New York Red Bulls in 2017 Final
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Sept. 20, 2017) – Sporting Kansas City kept alive their perfect record in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finals, beating New York Red Bulls 2-1 to claim their fourth crown in this the 104th installment of U.S. Soccer’s club championship. In front of a huge home crowd of 21,523 (third-largest in the history of Children’s Mercy Park), Peter Vermes’ SKC were in control from the start, and goals from Latif Blessing and substitute Daniel Salloi were enough to give the home team, and their boisterous fans, yet another night to savor.
The first-half proved that the pre-game promises of a wide-open Final that came from both sides were more than just empty advertising. Inside the 3rd minute, Gerso Fernandes latched onto a clever diagonal pass from Roger Espinoza and snuck in behind a flat Red Bull defense. Only a last-ditch tackle from Aaron Long kept the home side from carving out an early lead.
The pattern repeated itself on the ten-minute mark, with the speedy Gerso racing in from the right side and collecting the ball again from the foraging Espinoza. This time, though, the live-wire attacker made the wrong choice. Instead of pulling the trigger from a tight angle, he tried to lay the ball back across the box for the onrushing Benny Feilhaber. The noisy section behind the goal, the one they call the Claudron, responded with a groan before promptly getting back to drumming, chanting and general merry-making.
Bradley Wright-Phillips plowed a lone furrow for himself in attack at the other end. But even all on his own, the English-born striker was a threat not to be underestimated. His first effort to get on the end of a long ball saw him stray into an offside position. The next time, Matt Besler bundled him over. But the time after that, in the 13th minute, BWP forced SKC keeper Tim Melia to stretch to his limits and punch clear at the last possible second. The goalkeeper, who only allowed one goal in four games leading up to the Final, wasn’t off the hook yet. Sacha Kljestan, Red Bulls captain, got hold of the clearance and fired low with his right foot, forcing Melia into another fingertip save.
U.S. Youth International Tyler Adams of New York shadows U.S. MNT and Sporting KC defender Graham Zusi.
It was the Red Bulls turn to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Shortly after their captain made Melia work, U.S. youth international and native New Yorker Tyler Adams tried his luck from the edge of the box too. Melia, again, was equal to the task with a fine low save.
But all that good work proved a false dawn for the New Yorkers. In the 25th minute, the roof flew off Children’s Mercy Park when Latif Blessing – the shortest and slightest player on the pitch – rose highest to meet Graham Zusi’s inch-perfect cross from the right to make it 1-0 for the home team. Ryan Meara got a glove to the shot, but the effort only had eyes for the net.
Sporting KC's 5'5" forward Latif Blessing leaps in front of his marker to provide the opening salvo in his team's 2017 U.S. Open Cup triumph.
In the venerable tradition of the best cup finals, the game developed a physical edge. It straddled the line between tough and nasty. Every loose ball was challenged and every player on the pitch, even the darlings like SKC schemer Benny Feilhaber and New York’s elegant Kljestan, went hell for leather into tackles and 50-50 balls.
In the 41st minute, the diminutive Blessing was at it again. This time he hustled and harried to win the ball deep in his own half before sending a curling ball 60 yards up the field to pick out the flying Gerso. The man from Guinea-Bissau was all alone and bearing down on goal. A tug of the shirt from Adams and a charge from Meara, who stood in for regular No.1 Luis Robles for every minute of the Red Bulls’ 2017 Open Cup campaign, was enough to throw off Gerso’s shot and keep the game alive.
Having turned the contest on its ear with a goal and no shortage of lively play, it was a sad sight to see Blessing limp off two minutes from the interval with an injury. There was the sense he had more to offer the game with his guile and pace. Tempers flared on the stroke of half-time with both sets of player agitated over tight calls and even tighter no-calls.
The second-half picked up right where the first let off, with both sides fighting for every ball. Sporting Kansas City, with a 1-0 lead to comfort them, didn’t need to take any chances. Vermes strengthened the midfield by bringing on Jimmy Medranda for Gerso, almost daring the Red Bulls to push into attack.
Sporting KC forward Daniel Salloi revs up 'Blue Hell' after putting the home team ahead 2-0 midway through the second half of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup Final.
But before the visitors even had a chance to mount a charge, Sporting KC doubled their lead in the 66th minute. Feilhaber collected the ball out wide on the left and used his fly’s-eye vision to curl a pass in for Salloi, the substitute from Hungary who came on to replace opening goal-scorer Blessing. Meara hesitated before racing off his line and found himself in no-man’s land by the time the wispy Salloi stretched to poke the ball home to a roar of delight from the elated Kansas City crowd. They could sense a fourth Open Cup crown was on the cards for their heroes.
And so it was to be. Despite a late Wright-Phillips consolation goal in injury time, the 2-1 result earns Sporting Kansas City $250,000 dollars in prize money and a place in the CONCACAF Champions League, the competition which sends CONCACAF’s representative to the annual FIFA Club World Cup. But all of that is gravy for later, as the night and its celebrations, both in the stands and down on the pitch, were what it was all about. It was a fitting end to another unforgettable Open Cup.
While Bruce Arena will use the next few weeks to round out his roster for October’s crucial World Cup Qualifiers, one of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s opponents for the pivotal set of games has already named theirs.
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, Panama head coach Hernan Dario Gomez announced the 22-player roster that will take part in USA-Panama, presented by Volpi Foods, on Oct. 6 in Orlando before closing out qualifying home against Costa Rica four days later.
Known for naming his starting lineups the day before Panama’s games, Gomez is largely relying on the same group he has throughout the Final Round, with 20 of the players on this roster most recently taking part in Los Canaleros’ September matches.
One notable returnee is veteran goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Capped 125 times by Panama, the former LA Galaxy net minder missed out on September’s matches with a groin injury.
Check out the full list of 22 players that have been called up by Panama:
GOALKEEPERS (2): José Calderón (Marathón/HON), Jaime Penedo (Dynamo Bucharest/ROM)
DEFENDERS (8): Felipe Baloy (Municipal/GUA), Érick Davis (Dunajská Streda/SVK), Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls/USA), Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo/USA), Michael Murillo (New York Red Bulls/USA), Luis Ovalle (Deportes Tolima/COL), Román Torres (Seattle Sounders FC), Jan Carlos Vargas (Tauro)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Édgar Bárcenas (Tapachula/MEX), Ricardo Buitrago (Juan Aurich/PER), Armando Cooper (Toronto FC/CAN), Aníbal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes/USA), Gabriel Gòmez (Atlético Bucaramanga/COL), José González (Árabe Unido), Alberto Quintero (Universitario/PER)
FORWARDS (5): Abdiel Arroyo (Danubio/URU), Roberto Nurse (Zacatecas), Blas Pérez (Municipal/GUA), Luis Tejada (Universitario/PER), Gabriel Torres (Lausanna-Sport/SUI)Read more