Sporting KC tops Philly, secures spot in Cup finalBy JON MARKS
Special to the Star
For the first time since 2004 — back when they were known as the Wizards — Kansas City will have a team playing for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Jacob Peterson’s header in the 65th minute off a free kick, which snapped a scoreless tie, proved decisive, before Graham Zusi’s goal from long distance in stoppage time clinched a 2-0 win over a revitalized Philadelphia Union team that had come to life after a recent coaching change.
Not only that, it avenged a 4-0 embarrassment here June 23 versus the Union.
Instead, it will be Sporting KC, currently tied for first in the MLS Eastern Division, going for the glory at Livestrong Park, either August 7 or 8 against the winner of Wednesday’s Chivas-Seattle Sounders game. For coach Peter Vermes and his jubilant players, the day can’t get here soon enough.
“It will be a big day in Kansas City,” predicted goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who was called upon to make just one save after facing an onslaught in that 4-0 debacle. “Livestrong (Stadium) will go crazy for that game.”
It’s a goal Vermes had pointed to from the start of the season, knowing the Cup winner gains entry into the Champions League tournament in 2013.
“It’s huge,” said Vermes, who’ll have to play without defender Aurelien Collin in the title game, after Collin received his third yellow card of the tournament. “Our fan base has turned into a cult following.…
“Now it’s up to us to bring a home a Cup.”
To have that chance, they had to first take care of the Union, brimming with confidence since assistant John Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak behind the bench. Sure enough, Philly controlled play most of the first half, yet never mounted a serious threat on goal. Eventually, that turned to frustration, opening the door for Sporting KC.
“I think we created some chances the second half,” said Peterson, who cashed in when he redirected Zusi’s pass off the hand of Union keeper Zac MacMath, who seemed to react late. “They had more of the play and a lot of possessions in the first half, so the key for us was coming out more aggressive.
“We were all embarrassed by that (4-0) game. It’s not a good feeling to lose like that. But at the end of the day, we both wanted to win a trophy.
“Playing at home will mean a lot. This fan base deserves this. For us as a team we want to be loyal to those fans and put on a show in a couple of weeks.”
Sporting KC has seven games prior to the Cup final, meaning they’ll have to bottle that energy for a while “We have a bunch of games before that,” said Nielsen, who credited improved defense for making his rather uneventful night. “Right now we have to it a little bit in back of our head
“But I think we played a very smart game tonight, We learned a lot from last game here when we tried to drive the game and made a lot of mistakes.
“Today we were able to limit those mistakes.’’
Which means in less than a month, the big prize will be on the line before the home folks. For Sporting KC it will be a moment to treasure.