SKC & NYRB Expect Open Finale for the Open Cup

The 104th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, is down to two teams and one last game. Members of both sides, MLS’s Sporting KC and New York Red Bulls, are expecting a wide-open contest.

The 104th installment of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, is down to two teams and one last game. Members of both sides, Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls, are expecting a wide-open contest despite the jangling nerves that can sometimes accompany a one-off Final where it’s all on the line. “I don’t expect it to be a cagey affair,” SKC boss Peter Vermes told on the eve of the big game. “I think it’s going to be an energetic Final with a lot going on. I think we’re in for a great game.”

Free-scoring Red Bulls’ ace Bradley Wright-Phillips agrees whole-heartedly. He’s scored three goals in his last two Open Cup outings (two of them match-winners against old rivals England Revolution and FC Cincinnati, Cinderella men from the second division), and he’s eager to bring a first trophy back to the NYC area after a long drought that haunts fans and players both. “It’s going to be just like the Semifinal was for us,” said the English-born striker, who his coach Jesse Marsch calls the “best Red Bulls player in the team’s history.” A pair of Supporters Shields (the prize given to the team with the best MLS regular-season record) is hardly enough for a player with the pedigree, panache and ambition of this BWP. “We’re away from home again – just like in the Semifinal and we’ll have to fight to give ourselves a chance,” he said, ready to end a 21-year run without a lifting a cup.

(Wright-Phillips has three goals in his last two Open Cup games (two of them match-winners)

Butterflies For All
“We’ll work not to conceded early, and if we do that we’ll be in good shape because we’ll always create chances. That’s not a problem for us,” added Wright-Phillips who admits he might have some butterflies on Wednesday morning. It’s no different for Graham Zusi, the long-time U.S. international and SKC winger. “I have butterflies before every game I play,” he admitted with a chuckle from the club’s training ground on Tuesday, just 24 hours from the kickoff of Sporting Kansas City’s second Open Cup Final in the space of three years. “But there’s a special intensity in the locker room on the morning of a Cup Final. The butterflies are how you know it’s special. It’s how you know it matters.”

SKC will have a big advantage playing in front of their hometown crowd – the same fans they won the 2012 U.S. Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup in front of. “The Red Bulls are a great team and they have a lot of weapons and different ways to hurt you,” added Zusi. “But we have something they don’t have. We have our home fans pushing us on and you can’t underestimate the value of that. You simply can’t.”

“The difference between playing a final at home versus away is massive. It’s a huge factor,” added Benny Feilhaber – the Brazil-born playmaker whose career has been revived since coming to Kansas City in the title-winning year of 2013. “Both of us are very good teams but we’re going to be a little more comfortable than New York. It’s an advantage, playing at home. It always is. You just have to feed off of that home energy and make sure you do the things you’re supposed to do.”

(Benny Feilhaber set up two goals for SKC in their epic Quarterfinal against FC Dallas)

The Red Bulls won’t be overly upset about playing away from home. They’ve been impressive road warriors in the latter stages of their Cup run. After beating local rivals New York City FC and Philadelphia Union at home, they’ve played their last two games away and brought home victories each time. “These games are all intense,” said Sacha Kljestan, NYRB’s captain and someone who professes a deep affection for the U.S. Open Cup. He claims the Quarterfinal win against New England at Harvard Stadium was a “turning-point” in the campaign. “We’ve been rallying behind our run in the Cup and reaching the Final was a goal we set for ourselves at the start of the season. We’ve been getting good results on the road in tough places and playing in tough games. We’ve been pushing ourselves hard and getting the results we need.”

True Grit from Gotham’s Red Bulls
Wright-Phillips, who will be up against a defense that’s conceded just one goal in their four Cup games, isn’t much worried about playing in hostile territory. “We’ve been ticking over this year in the Cup,” he said, knowing full-well he’ll be up against one of the best goalkeepers (Tim Melia) and back-fours in Major League Soccer. “We’re winning games in tough places that I think we would have lost in the past few years – even if we’d played a little better. We’re showing toughness in this competition.”

(Jesse Marsch, coach of NYRB, won four U.S. Open Cups as a player)

Wednesday’s encounter is a chance for the Red Bulls to set right an unwanted and unimpressive 21-year-old stat. “We feel like, by getting to the Final, we’ve got one hand on the trophy and we don’t want to blow it,” said Wright-Phillips who launched himself into the visiting fans’ section after scoring an extra-time winner in Cincinnati in the Semifinal. Kljestan is on board with BWP’s way of thinking: “We’ve showed a lot of resilience in the Open Cup this year. We’ve found ways to grind out results. Being able to do things like that, especially on the road, is really important. And it says something about this Red Bulls team.”

Marsch – who won four Open Cups as a player before taking over the reins at NYRB – has seen glimpses of a fighting spirit in the 2017 Open Cup that have him feeling confident. “It’s also well understood that the New York Red Bulls, and going back to the MetroStars days, have never won a trophy. There’s been some Supporters’ Shields, but there’s never been a trophy,” said the coach, matter-of-fact and intense. “So this is a big opportunity for the club and for this team, and I think, again, that it’s something we’re taking seriously and it’s something that’s helped us grow.”

Wide-open Final for the 104th Cup
None of Kansas City’s three previous Open Cup titles have come in regular time. All have required extra-time minutes to get the job done. “We don’t plan to take the Final to penalties, I can tell you that,” said their captain Matt Besler, who has taken note of the fine form of the striker he’ll need to watch on the day. “We all know about Bradley Wright-Phillips – he’s been scoring goals in this league for a lot of years now and it’s part of my job to prepare to go up against him and know the kind of form he’s in.”

(SKC coach Peter Vermes and his captain Matt Besler)

Like his coach, Peter Vermes, Benny Feilhaber is expecting a wide-open game on Wednesday. “We’ve played NYRB a lot. But this is a Final. And it will be different,” he said. “I know Sacha [Kljestan] really well and with BWP you know exactly what he’s good at. We’ll try and do most of the things we’ve done all year long. We want to limit their chances and be opportunistic. It might come down to who’s more opportunistic on the night. But I think it will be an exciting game, an open game, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, with a live broadcast of the game available on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app. The winner will win $250,000 in prize money and book a place in the CONCACAF Champions League, for a chance to become CONCACAF’s representative at the FIFA Club World Cup.