The opportunity to lift a trophy will arrive in four days for Sporting Kansas City, which has reached its third U.S. Open Cup final in six years. But in the meantime, the MLS season beckons for a club that spent the last month slowly sliding down the Western Conference standings.
It reclaimed its footing Saturday in a match that opened with a wild quarter-hour.
Sporting Kansas City erased an early deficit, took advantage of an ejection, then wore down undermanned New England for a 3-1 victory in front of a crowd of 19,089 at Children’s Mercy Park.
Sporting KC, 11-6-11, moved back up into a second-place tie in the West.
“Leading up to the game, we say all the right things; we put our heads down; and we approach things the right way. But we’re human. We know what’s on the horizon,” Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. “We handled things professionally tonight. We got the points we needed. Now, we move on.”
Striker Diego Rubio scored two goals Saturday, including the game-winner moments before halftime and perhaps the easiest goal of his career shortly after it.
But the real drama came much earlier. In a sequence of just 12 minutes, one former Sporting KC player scored for New England, another former Sporting player was ejected from the match after a video review, and Sporting KC winger Gerso Fernandes pulled his club even.
Teal Bunbury, Kei Kamara and Krisztian Nemeth all returned in a New England uniform after previous stops in Kansas City. Bunbury, who spent the first four years of his career in Kansas City, opened the scoring only 200 seconds into the match, a shot aided by a deflection to plop over the head of goalkeeper Tim Melia.
Seven minutes later, an off-the-ball, seemingly meaningless play changed the final 80 minutes. Nemeth, in his first start since signing with New England last month, elbowed Graham Zusi in the face while jockeying for position on a throw-in. The incident initially didn’t even prompt a whistle, but referee Jorge Gonzalez was alerted by the on-site video assistant referee to take a second look.
After a brief view of the replay on the sideline, Gonzalez removed the red card from his back pocket. Nemeth’s return to Kansas City lasted 11 minutes. His walk to the tunnel nearly matched his time on the field.
“One of their players lost it (and) did something that he’s not supposed to do,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “(Review) is a welcomed new technology in our sport. I think it’s important. There’s too many things that happen — referees can’t see everything.”
Sporting KC attempted to reacquire Nemeth during the summer transfer window, but New England made the move instead. He has since made three appearances totaling 20 minutes.
His lone action Saturday aided his former team more than his current one.
Sporting KC stepped on the pedal after his sendoff, prompting the equalizer from Fernandes only five minutes later. Fernandes then set up Rubio’s first score, sliding a pass across the mouth of the goal. Rubio tapped it in and added his second on a rebound after Benny Feilhaber connected with the post.
“I remember that I went for a rebound three or four times in the first half, but the keeper didn’t (allow) any,” Rubio said. “You need to be ready.”
Sporting KC next turns its preparation to the Open Cup championship. It will play host to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, a match that has been on the calendar for six weeks.
“Tonight wasn’t easy,” Vermes said. “No matter how you look at it, the final was in the back of their minds.”
Sporting Kansas City 3, Revolution 1
NEW ENGLAND: Brad Knighton; Benjamin Angoua, Claude Dielna, Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney (Daigo Kobayashi, 46th); Scott Caldwell, Gershon Koffie, Lee Nguyen (Juan Agudelo, 79th); Teal Bunbury (Diego Fagundez, 63rd), Kei Kamara, Krisztian Nemeth.
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic, Graham Zusi; Latif Blessing, Benny Feilhaber, Jimmy Medranda (Soony Saad, 83rd), Ilie Sanchez; Gerso Fernandes (Kevin Oliveira, 79th), Diego Rubio (Lobato, 65th).
New England: 1, Bunbury 7, 4th minute.
Kansas City: 2, Fernandes 8, 16th. 3, Rubio 3 (Fernandes, Zusi), 45th. 4, Rubio 4, 57th.
Shots on goal
New England: Dielna (unsporting behavior), 86th; Fagundez (unsporting behavior), 93rd.
Kansas City: Rubio (unsporting behavior), 23rd; Medranda (unsporting behavior), 26th.
New England: Nemeth (violent conduct), 11th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
Assistant referee: Jose Da Silva
Assistant referee: Ian Anderson
Fourth official: Alejandro Mariscal