Two teams on the brink of championship glory will go head-to-head Wednesday night when Sporting Kansas City hosts the New York Red Bulls in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at Children’s Mercy Park.
Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m.
Guided by ninth-year Manager Peter Vermes, Sporting Kansas City has made a habit of winning North America’s oldest soccer tournament. The club is within striking distance of its fourth Open Cup title overall and its third in five years, having lifted the trophy in 2004, 2012 and 2015.
"I say it all the time, there are three trophies to win every year, the Supporter Shield, the Open Cup and the MLS Cup," Sporting KC Head Coach Peter Vermes said. "This is one of them we take a lot of pride in. so it's going to be a big game."
A victory on Wednesday would underscore Sporting KC’s imperious reign in a storied competition that dates back to 1913.
"Finals are something we don't take for granted as a team," Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said. "It's a big opportunity for the club. I know everyone is anxious but excited to get out there."
Similarly, the Red Bulls have enjoyed an era of success since the turn of the decade. Head coach Jesse Marsch led New York to the 2015 Supporters’ Shield in his first season at the helm and currently has the side well-positioned for an eighth straight playoff appearance.
But, the Red Bulls are still seeking their first championship in a knockout competition. The team came closest in 2003 and 2008, suffering defeat in the Open Cup Final and MLS Cup, respectively.
A precious prize package will be up for grabs on Wednesday, as the winner will claim $250,000 and a berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League to go along with a cherished piece of silverware.
Sporting Kansas City will be four days removed from a 3-1 home win over the New England Revolution that lifted the club within a point of first place in the Western Conference.
Children’s Mercy Park has remained an unquestioned fortress for Sporting Kansas City over the last 15 months. Vermes’ team boasts a club-record 23-game home unbeaten run in the MLS regular season dating back to June 19, 2016, the third-longest such streak in league history.
Sporting KC’s dominant home form has been keyed by a superb defense that wields a 0.79 goals against average, on pace to be the lowest all-time in a 34-game MLS regular season. Goalkeeper Tim Melia is tied for the league lead with 10 shutouts and has been nothing short of phenomenal in the Open Cup competition, where he owns a 10-0-2 record with two shootout wins since 2012.
“We try to put in the work and set up ourselves to play in big moments like these,” Besler said. “You work hard at the beginning of the season so you can play meaningful games at the end of the year."
Coming off a scoreless home draw with the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, the Red Bulls will have less recovery time leading up to Wednesday’s final. This may have prompted Marsch to rotate his squad in the aforementioned 0-0 stalemate, as regular starters Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams and Aaron Long were only available off the bench.
Since ousting FC Cincinnati 3-2 in a thrilling Open Cup semifinal on Aug. 15, the Red Bulls have failed to win each of their last five MLS fixtures. That drought includes four consecutive draws, however, and New York will come to Kansas City with no shortage of attacking threats. Wright-Phillips leads the side with 18 goals in all competitions, while Sacha Kljestan’s 90 chances created and 14 assists rank first and second in MLS, respectively.
Marsch’s men have shown admirable resolve during their Open Cup run, going on the road to beat New England in the quarterfinals and FC Cincinnati in the semifinals. Their tournament campaign also consisted of narrow home scalps over rivals New York City FC and Philadelphia, with backup goalkeeper Ryan Meara delivering four solid performances en route to the final.
Remarkably, the 22-year-old head-to-head series is dead even with both teams owning 21 wins and 13 draws across all competitions.
Wednesday will mark the first time Sporting KC and New York have met in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Their lone meeting outside of the MLS regular season came in October 2014, when the Red Bulls topped the defending MLS Cup champions by a 2-1 scoreline in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round behind a brace from Wright-Phillips.
The clubs last met on May 3 when Sporting KC secured a 2-0 victory at Children's Mercy Park, their second straight shutout win in the series.
Both sides enter Wednesday with multiple names on the injury report. Sporting KC’s Soni Mustivar is out with a pulled hamstring, while forward Daniel Salloi — who has scored twice in this year’s Open Cup run — is questionable with a hip ailment.
The biggest question mark for New York is midfielder Daniel Royer, who has missed seven straight games in all competitions with a knee injury. July’s MLS Player of the Month has trained in full this week, and Marsch will likely make a decision today on whether to select the Austrian to his 18-man squad. Former Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin, meanwhile, is doubtful to feature as he continues to recover from plantar fasciitis.
Tickets remain available for Wednesday’s match.
All the parking lots will open at 5 p.m. and fans are encouraged to tailgate. Most of the parking is at the corner of Sporting Way and State Avenue.
Officials warn fans not to park in the Legends parking lot as those cars could get towed.
Copyright 2017 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.