KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Latif Blessing scored midway through the first half, Daniel Salloi added a breakaway goal in the second and Sporting Kansas City held on to beat the New York Red Bulls 2-1 on Wednesday night for its fourth U.S. Open Cup title.
The fast-paced match featured plenty of chances by both Major League Soccer clubs, but it was the pint-sized Blessing whose header in the 25th minute that put Sporting KC ahead to stay.
The Red Bulls’ Michael Murillo had just won a free kick, but Kansas City quickly cleared and went on the counter-attack. Graham Zusi got the ball on the wing, and the U.S. national team mainstay curled in a cross that the Blessing managed to connect with between four defenders.
Blessing’s goal came shortly after a hard tackle left him lying on the turf in pain. He was only out of the game for a moment, but he was still limping after a hydration break at the 30-minute mark on a hot, muggy night, so manager Peter Vermes decided to substitute a few minutes later.
It was Salloi who came on and, despite a hip injury that had him questionable to play, he managed to get loose in the 66th minute and put a pass from Benny Feilhaber in the back of the net.
The goal proved crucial when the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in extra time.
Sporting KC won its first championship in the nation’s oldest ongoing club tournament in 2004, when it was known as the Wizards. The club added titles in 2012 and 2015, both of them requiring a shootout, and is now the first MLS club with four major trophies since 2012.
The perennial powerhouse also won the MLS Cup in 2013.
Sporting KC’s midfield celebration was led by the defensive trio of Zusi, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic. They have been part of the club’s last three Open Cup titles, and they were instrumental in stifling Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan and the Red Bulls’ potent attack for the first 90 minutes.
The sellout crowd of 21,523 that joined in their party included Kansas City sports icons such as Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier and Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett.
Sporting KC improved to 4-0 in MLS Cup and Open Cup finals under Vermes, who has displayed a remarkable ability to massage and overhaul his roster each year. And a solid performance by goalkeeper Tim Melia, featuring several dazzling second-half saves, made him 11-0-2 in Open Cup games.
Meanwhile, the result was another bitter disappointment in a major competition for the Red Bulls, who lost their only other Open Cup final to the Chicago Fire in 2003.
New York is the only original MLS club that has never captured the MLS Cup or Open Cup.
It was also a bitter defeat for Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch, who had placed an emphasis on the single-elimination tournament. Marsch won four Open Cups during his playing career, and he believed that winning the silver trophy could spur his ascending club onto bigger things.
Instead, it was Sporting KC that hoisted the trophy once more.
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