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Sporting KC eyes Open Cup as semifinal showdown looms in Sacramento

Manager Peters Vermes’ club can reach title game with win Wednesday
Johnny Russell
Posted at 5:27 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 18:27:40-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Peter Vermes has won three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships during his coaching career, but don’t ask the Sporting Kansas City manager and technical director to pick a favorite memory from those triumphs in the country’s oldest soccer tournament.

“I’m going to take a page from Tom Brady, and I’m going to say the next one,” Vermes said with a wry smile Tuesday during a video conference.

Beset by injuries, Sporting KC (5-13-5), which sits last in the MLS Western Conference with little hope of making the playoffs, has limped through regular-season play.

The Open Cup provides a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dreary season for Sporting KC’s fans, but the team said they aren’t putting added emphasis on the tourney.

“Maybe not extra importance,” Sporting KC forward and captain Johnny Russell said. “Even if we were in our normal position fighting at the top of the table, I don’t think we would look at this competition or this game any differently. We’d still want to go win it.”

Russell did admit that reaching the Open Cup final with a win at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Sacramento Republic FC might provide a nice morale boost for the locker room amid the regular-season struggles.

“I’m excited,” Russell said. “If you can’t get excited for games like this and stages like this of a tournament, you’re probably not in the right sport. ... It’s massive. It’s another opportunity to go and win a title.”

Sporting KC understands that Sacramento won’t be an easy out in the quest to reach the title game.

“Every game, when you play in Open Cup, is a very difficult game,” Vermes said. “The challenge is congested schedule, playing midweek games, it’s travel — it’s all the things that go with it. ... This is also a very good team, a team that aspires to be in Major League Soccer. They’ve built themselves that way, so we know what we’re up against.”

Vermes stressed that Sacramento is an organized and aggressive side defensively with the ability to spring quickly on the counterattack.

“They’ve got a good ability to find those passes and hurt you with speed,” Russell said. “They have some guys who can really take off and hurt you with their pace, so we have to be very wary of that.”

Vermes also confirmed Tuesday that John Pulskamp will start in goal as he has for the previous two Open Cup games with Tim Melia out.

To reach the semifinals, Sporting KC topped FC Dallas 4-2 on May 10 in the Round of 16, then romped 6-0 against Union Omaha SC on June 22 in the quarterfinals.

Sacramento had a much harder road to the semifinals.

Entering in the second round, Sacramento beat the Portland Timbers U23s (USL2), Central Valley Fuego FC (USL1), Phoenix Rising FC (USLC), and finally, two MLS sides, the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy, to make the semis.

“They’re in the semifinal by merit; they deserve to be there,” Russell said. “The Cup is good for stories like that as well. Hopefully, this is where the story comes to an end. That’s what we will be looking to do.”

The SKC/Sacramento winner faces the New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC winner in the 107th U.S. Open Cup final in September.