The first-half began cautiously, with the feel very much of an Open Cup game between two teams with designs on going all the way to the Final. The first chance of note came for the home side after nine minutes when a sizzling counter-attack up the right side saw Jimmy Medranda and Gerso Fernandes carve out space and cut inside. A low ball across the penalty area picked out Diego Rubio, but the Chilean could only hit high, wide and ugly.
Sporting had another chance just before the quarter-hour when Gerso was sent clean through on goal and took the ball around Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez. With nothing but empty net in front of him, he tapped the ball a little too gently and allowed recovering utility man Ryan Hollingshead to get back in time and slide the ball away before it crossed the line. Then, instead of being a goal up and cruising, the home side found themselves a man down seconds later when Seth Sinovic committed a cynical foul on Michael Barrios, who was through on goal after a defense-splitting pass. It’s safe to say Kansas City coach Peter Vermes – a fiery former U.S. international – disagreed with the call. He was nothing short of furious on the touchline.
Sporting Kansas City's Latif Blessing
The red-card – the first straight red for SKC in any competition all season – provided a jolt of energy, and both sides had chances to score as the half wore down toward the 45-minute mark. FC Dallas, who named a strong squad with Maxi Urruti and schemer Mauro Diaz in from the start, caused problems for the ten men of Kansas City. But the home side, in no way fazed by their numerical inferiority, nearly took the lead just before the half when Gerso picked out Blessing with a set piece, only for the Ghanaian to miss a headed attempt from close range – the ball careening off his shoulder.
The second-half picked up right where the first one left off, with a flurry of chances at both ends that failed to produce goals. Opara, Sporting Kansas City’s outstanding center-back, had to slide away a dangerous chance early to keep Urruti from scoring from in close. And in what was a hint of things to come, Blessing began to look like the danger-man for the home team. He had two chances – one from the left side and one from the right – that had Dallas keeper Gonzalez scrambling. He was proving a nightmare for the visitors’ defense.
In the last ten minutes of the half, the sides exchanged a series of long-range shots – any of which might have ended the game right then and there. Roger Espinoza – a dynamo in midfield for Kansas City all night long – forced Gonzalez into a fine save in the 86th minute. Shortly after, up the other end, Tim Melia was forced into the save of the night when he denied Barrios’ volley from close range with just seconds to go in regulation.
The home side were down a man for 75 minutes up to that point, and they looked to be wilting in the heat in the dying moments of regulation. When the whistle signaled extra-time, they looked to be saved by the bell and waiting only for an inevitable knockout.
The 30 minutes of extra-time that followed will go down in Open Cup lore. Vermes brought on Feilhaber in midfield, no doubt hoping the silken-footed creator might spark his side, still down a man and in deep trouble.
After 101 minutes, Opara was kicked hard in the head by Urruti who went up for a flying overhead kick. It earned Urruti a second yellow to level the playing field at ten men for each team, but it also knocked Opara – who’s had his share of injury woes in recent years – out cold. He suffered a concussion, but gave a thumbs-up to concerned fans as he was wheeled off on a gurney. Urruti – in a display of professional and human concern – was in tears after the incident.
Sporting KC's Gerso vs. FC Dallas' Carlos Gruezo
From that moment forward, the game changed completely – and all in favor of Kansas City. In the 108th minute, Brazilian-born Feilhaber – with his experience and vision coming to the fore – sent Blessing clean in on Gonzalez’ goal. The livewire forward made no mistake with a slotted finish of the highest order. Two minutes after that, Feilhaber broke through again, influencing the game with his wiles and his talent. When Javier Morales pulled his shirt at the midfield stripe, it was deemed a professional foul and the Dallas man was shown a straight red, forcing the visitors to play with nine men for the remainder of the game.
And from there on out, with the tables turned, FC Dallas collapsed. Blessing added a cheeky second with a back-heeled strike from close range and Hungarian substitute Daniel Salloi finished off the scoring with a goal set up by – guess who – Feilhaber that made it 3-0 for the home side who were Open Cup champs last in 2015.
It was an extra-time period to remember, and one that will go down in the wacky annals of the U.S. Open Cup. With the holders out at their hands, Sporting Kansas City must be ranked among the favorites. In their three games so far they’ve yet to concede a single goal, but next they face a tough Semifinal date with San Jose Earthquakes.