On a frigid afternoon in December 2013, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake played a winner-take-all match that required a record-breaking 10 rounds of penalty kicks to determine a winner. After an exhausting three hours, Sporting KC lined up on a stage in the middle of its home field and hoisted the MLS Cup.
Nineteen months later, it is one victory away from hoisting another trophy.
Sporting KC defeated Real Salt Lake 3-1 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals Wednesday night in front of 16,117 fans at Sporting Park.
Sporting will play for the Open Cup championship Sept. 30 in Philadelphia.
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“This is why I came here. This is the best feeling,” said first-year Sporting KC midfielder Soni Mustivar, who scored the club’s first goal. “I came to Kansas City for the chance to win a cup.”
Wednesday’s semifinal was the first meeting of Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake in a knockout-style match since that 2013 MLS Cup Final.
It, too, was enticing.
Benny Feilhaber delivered the game-winning goal in the 80th minute — a rebound chance after Dom Dwyer fired his attempt of the post — before Krisztian Nemeth provided insurance five minutes later for the 3-1 final.
It had to be Feilhaber, of course.
A player enjoying an MVP-caliber MLS season drew national attention earlier this year when he labeled Real Salt Lake the team’s biggest rival, remarking, “I’ve never liked Salt Lake.”
RSL coach Jeff Cassar said he informed his team it would take a group effort — not a one-man assignment — to slow down Feilhaber on Wednesday night.
But even that wasn’t effective. Feilhaber also assisted on Mustivar’s goal.
“I’ve not felt this good, this confident, this fit, my whole career,” said Feilhaber, who later added, “This felt like a playoff game.”
It was billed as one.
In the days leading up to the meeting, the teams separately stressed the desire to take the Open Cup match just as seriously as a league match.
Real Salt Lake rested five starters in a weekend loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps LC to save a better lineup for a semifinal match.
“After a victory on Wednesday, it’s going to look really good,” Cassar told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week.
That didn’t happen.
Even though it received a mammoth effort from its keeper, five-time MLS All-Star Nick Rimando, who made seven saves as Sporting KC spent most of the second half in enemy territory.
The second-half performance was aided by Mustivar’s header before the break.
“There is no doubt that getting in even at halftime was a big thing for us,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “They could have gone in (with the lead) and come back out and packed it in for the second half. Us getting that goal back was huge for us.”
The Mustivar goal countered one 11 minutes earlier from Real Salt Lake forward Olmes Garcia, who was ejected in the 91st minute after he intentionally collided with Feilhaber on an away-from-the-ball play.
That was an unflattering ending for Real Salt Lake, which hadn’t lost to Sporting in the teams’ previous three meetings this season.
Feilhaber changed that Wednesday.
A goal. An assist. And the victory.
“Benny’s on fire,” Dwyer said. “He’s scoring goals. He’s setting up goals. He’s involved in all the plays. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.”
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup summary
Sporting Kansas City 3
Real Salt Lake 1
Real Salt Lake
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Soni Mustivar, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson
REAL SALT LAKE: Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Elias Vasquez, Demar Phillips, Aaron Maund, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Olmes Garcia, Like Mulholland, Sebastian Jaime, Devon Sandoval.
Kansas City: 2, Mustivar (Feilhaber), 35th; 3, Feilhaber, 80th; 4, Nemeth, 85th. Real Salt Lake: 1, Garcia (Beltran), 24th.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Nagamura, 30th; Mustivar, 76th.
Real Salt Lake: Baltran, 76th.
Kansas City: None.
Real Sale Lake: Garcia (straight red), 90th+3.
Referee: Mark Geiger.
Assistant referee: Eric Boria.
Assistant referee: Kathryn Nesbitt.
4th official: Jose Carlos Rivero.
Announced attendance: 24,126.