The atmosphere around Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday evening resembled that of a laid-back summer school driver’s ed class.
The starting goal keeper was spotted in his civilian clothes, hanging out in the press box for free food. The fans sensed the moment to chill as well, leaving nearly the entire east and south sides of this stadium empty.
Jimmy Nielsen and all the fans who decided to stay home had good reasons to relax – Sporting Kansas City was hosting the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third round match against Chicago PDL. The ‘PDL’ stands for Premier Developmental League, which essentially meant this was the equivalent of the Royals toying with a minor-league team.
Just about the only ones taking this match seriously were the players on the pitch, and good thing, too, because as Sporting KC handled Chicago 3-0, its next U.S. Open Cup opponent pulled off the upset against a Major League Soccer team.
For the July 12 quarterfinals, Kansas City will host the Richmond Kickers – a lower-division United Soccer League team that defeated the Columbus Crew.
“These games are never easy,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “The team that comes in from the lower divisions always comes in with the idea that this is the Rocky fight.”
“Columbus loses to Richmond, and now Richmond will be here in a couple of weeks. That just goes to show you that anybody can beat anybody on any day. It happens in this tournament all the time, so we’re going to have to get prepared for that next round.”
Besides rising up to the challenge of facing a motivated underdog, Sporting KC can breathe a bit easier now that forwards Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara both broke scoreless droughts with goals.
In the third minute, midfielder Luke Sassano had a free kick just outside the penalty area. He purposely hesitated then tapped the ball to his left for Bunbury who caught Chicago goalie David Meves off guard. After the strike, Bunbury celebrated with a swagger walk and stare towards a Livestrong section with most of the 4,487 announced fans. Although Bunbury acted as if this scoring thing was nothing new, the goal actually stands as his first since April 2.
“Finally, ya know, I was able to score,” said Bunbury, who now has four goals on the season. “I always talk about this is my job, my duty to put the ball in the back of the net, obviously I haven’t been doing that. Most importantly, we got a win. Obviously, my confidence is back up getting that goal, but the biggest thing for me was getting a win.”
The quick goal seemed to relax the players and maybe too much for Vermes’ liking.
Vermes criticized what he described as a “lull” for the rest of the half that ended 1-0 in spite of Chicago’s best opportunity – a goal waved off in the 41st minute after an off sides call.
“Let’s put it this way: building up to this game, I definitely warned them,” Vermes said. “At halftime, I was a little bit more stronger about warning because I didn’t like how the first half went after we scored our first goal.”
Vermes credited their approach in the second half – more focus and passion in putting the Fire away.
In the 58th minute, midfielder Milos Stojcev stole a lazy kick out by the Chicago keeper and from a few yards outside of the penalty area, fired the ball in for Kansas City’s second goal. Then, Kamara took his turn. Fired up after just receiving an elbow from Chicago’s captain Jonathan Raj, Kamara laced in the perfectly-assisted free kick from Graham Zusi. After scoring the team’s third goal, Kamara – assumedly still sour from the not-so-sporting elbow – quickly rose to his feet and stood tauntingly over the defender who was lying on his stomach. Several Chicago players casually walked towards Kamara’s direction but did not escalate matters.
“I’m a happy guy on the field,” Kamara explained, “(but) when I’m not happy, you don’t want to get that side of me. Scoring the goal was better.
While returning to midfield, Kamara got a talking to from an official but after the brief conversation, Kamara brushed both of his shoulders for imaginary dirt – as if to show the Sporting fans that he was unaffected by all this. Even so, Kamara did care about winning this match.
“Because it’s the Open Cup,” Kamara said, “you know you have to play some lower-league teams to get to the final eight and so you just have to stay focused no matter who the team is.”