Sporting Kansas City’s 2-0 victory against Philadelphia on Wednesday in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals was an emotional one.
It’s the kind of win that sometimes takes the wind from a team’s sails, zaps a club’s collective strength for the next game.
“Wednesday’s win was obviously a massive result for us,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “Playing on the road in a semifinal and a little bit of a revenge match for the club based on the last result we had in Philadelphia, it was probably our best performance all year tactically.”
The hugs were a little more intense and the smiles a bit broader as Sporting advanced to the Open Cup final for the first time since winning the title in 2004.
But Sporting KC can’t afford to get too wrapped up in the chase for the Open Cup — and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League — not with seven games, including two friendlies during the 22-day stretch before battling the three-time defending Cup champion Seattle Sounders for the Open Cup title.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, not only for our organization but for the state of Kansas as well as Missouri, to host an event like the U.S. Open Cup final,” Vermes said. “I am very thankful for our ownership group for securing the bid.
“It’s a big achievement, but at the same time nothing’s happened. We haven’t done anything yet. The game is on Aug. 8. Our focus has been on getting to the final, but now we have a lot of goals to accomplish along the way.”
Among those goals is staying atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Sporting KC wore the regular-season conference crown a year ago and hopes to do so again. Snagging a point or three in Columbus would help achieve that goal.
But this game against the middle-of-the pack Crew team, amidst all the excitement of reaching the Open Cup final, could be a trap game.
Vermes and the Sporting players, however, insist the sole focus has switched to the Crew, and that they will be ready and raring to go at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Columbus Crew Stadium.
“We had a big game, and now we have another,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “There shouldn’t be a letdown. We want to be on top of our table, so we have something to play for and something to defend. Philadelphia was a good win for us, but all the focus should be on Columbus now. I’ll be very disappointed if that’s not the case.”
Sporting KC and D.C. United lead the Eastern Conference with 33 points, but United owns the tiebreaker on goal differential.
With the New York Red Bulls lurking in third with 31 points, it’s unlikely any team will pull away, putting a premium on collecting every point possible.
“Of course, it’s a big game,” Nielsen said. “The rest of the games this season are all in our conference, so they are all big games. We are on top of the league, and we want to stay there. Anytime you are at the top, other teams are going to try and take you down. We have to be ready.”
Sporting KC doesn’t mind if the fans look toward the Open Cup final.
By Friday morning, the club said more than 10,000 tickets had been sold for the Aug. 8 matchup with the Sounders.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Nielsen said. “We have some fantastic fans. Right after the game, we were all pumped. Everybody around the team was very happy and very proud. It’s going to be a big challenge, because Seattle has won the Cup the last three years. It will help that we are at home in front of our fans. We’ll do our best to bring back the title.”
Season-ticket holders have the option to retain their seats for the game, and there will be a presale for members to purchase additional tickets beginning at 9 a.m. Monday.
Tickets for the final go on sale to the general public, including to fans in Seattle, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.