Less than five months ago, Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City SC entered into an affiliate agreement.
As part of that arrangement, Sporting KC loaned the Lions four players, including forward Dom Dwyer, who broke the USL Pro single-season scoring record with 15 goals in only 13 games this season.
“It’s been great,” coach Peter Vermes said. “They’re a very professional organization that has great ambitions to join MLS. They run their club very professionally. They’ve been great from a technical perspective. It’s been a great environment for our guys to go and get training and games there.”
The lovefest between Sporting KC and Orlando City is mutual.
“We have an enormous amount of respect for (Sporting KC),” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. “I know I do personally. I like Peter and what he’s doing. I like the way he plays.”
Orlando City’s ownership also has developed a close relationship with Sporting KC’s ownership as it looks toward building a stadium with an eye toward entrance into MLS at some point.
Given all that, there is bound to be plenty of mutual respect when the two sides meet during the fourth round of the 100th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Sporting Park.
Of course, it also adds a new layer of intensity to the match.
Sporting KC, which knocked off Orlando City 3-2 during the third round of the 2012 Open Cup tourney en route to the title, opted not to allow Dwyer and the other three players on loan — goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defender Yann Songo’o and midfielder Christian Duke — to play against their parent club.
Still, the Lions will have plenty of roar and perhaps an even bigger chip on their shoulder than usual.
“Obviously, we’re going to go up there and try to beat them,” Heath said. “We proved last year that we can give a good account of ourselves. We had a lot of opportunities last year.”
And Sporting KC expects nothing less than Orlando City’s best.
“Every time we step inside those white lines, we have to be prepared to play and win,” Vermes said. “Not tie and not have a good performance, every time we step inside those white lines it’s about winning for us.”
Sporting KC understands that, even though Orlando City plays in the third tier of the North American soccer pyramid, it will be facing a dangerous, highly motivated opponent, which already vanquished one MLS team (Colorado Rapids) during Open Cup play.
“I’ve been on both sides of the coin,” said Josh Gardner, who has played in Open Cup games with MLS sides as well as with the Seattle Sounders FC before it joined the league. “You don’t have anything to lose, so you can give everything you have when you’re the David. And the Goliaths fall pretty hard sometimes.”
For Orlando City’s players, it’s a chance to prove they belong.
“It’s like I told the guys before the Colorado game, everybody talks about wanting to play at the highest level and this is opportunity to go and show that you can,” Heath said. “Go and show people who play every weekend in the MLS that you can compete at this level. I think we have more than a couple guys who can play at the next level.”
Five former Lions have moved into the MLS ranks during the last few years, including two — Lawrence Olum and Mechack Jerome — to Sporting KC.
Yordany Alvarez (Real Salt Lake), Lewis Neal (D.C. United) and Eddie Johnson (the other one, who played briefly with the Portland Timbers) also are Orlando City alumni.
Still, what happens if the Lions win and end Sporting KC’s bid for an Open Cup repeat?
“Will it affect the relationship? I don’t think so, because we’re all professionals here,” said Heath, whose club is 42-5-10 during league play in his three seasons at the helm. “We’re going to go up there and try to win the game, but if (Sporting KC) win it I hope they go and win the competition again.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.