Oddly enough, there is absolutely no paint involved in “painting the wall.”
Instead, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen climbed a 20-foot ladder and arranged the pre-molded numbers 2-0-1-2 on the wall in the northeast corner of Livestrong Sporting Park under the heading “U.S. Open Cup Champions.”
The ceremony capped an incredible party Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park, where Sporting KC captured the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a shootout victory against the Seattle Sounders.
“That was awesome,” Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic said of watching Nielsen “paint the wall.” “It was a surreal experience, just knowing you’re part of a team that has accomplished something like winning the Open Cup and seeing something that’s going to be in the stadium for years and years to come. It’s an incredible experience.”
It’s also potentially an incredible distraction.
Sporting KC, 12-7-4, is tied with the Houston Dynamo atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Coach Peter Vermes’ club trails the Western Conference-leading San Jose Earthquakes by four points in the race for the MLS Supporter’s Shield as well.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, every point is critical.
That means there is little time to enjoy the U.S. Open Cup title with D.C. United (currently fourth in the Eastern Conference with 36 points in 21 games, two less than Sporting KC and the Dynamo) arriving for a key conference battle at 7:30 tonight at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“We still have quite a few goals that we set out at the beginning of the season and I went through those with the guys again,” Vermes said. “There are things we’re still after and to do those things, we have to have the right mentality and go out with the right approach. I think they understand that, but I’m not going to say they’ll be completely over winning the Open Cup by (tonight).”
Sporting KC pushed back its Thursday practice to 6 p.m., allowing for the fact players and coaches and staff had a late night celebrating the U.S. Open Cup win.
“It’s fun celebrating, but we love playing,” defender Chance Myers said. “We’re going to get back out on the practice field (Thursday) and get back to work. At the end of the day, playing soccer is what we love to do.”
And so it was back to business as usual Friday as Sporting KC wraps up a stretch of 17 games in 57 days.
“Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday was getting to be a lot, especially with all the injuries we’ve had lately,” Vermes said. “I’m glad we have it behind us, but I think the guys managed it well.
“We’ve got quite a few injuries still and this weekend we’re going to have to make some changes. That’s just the way it is. Some of the guys who maybe didn’t play in that game but were still around the emotion of it hopefully will have the desire to get out there and keep adding to what we’re doing.”
That might be easier said than done against D.C.
“We accomplished one of our goals (Wednesday) night, but we still have a lot more we want to accomplish,” Sinovic said. “It’s tough, though, because it was obviously an emotional game for us as well as the fans. It’s going to be tough to get ready for D.C., but we also know it’s another important game.”
Just not one that will end with a victory lap — no matter the outcome.
“That was a proud moment,” Nielsen said. “After I woke up Wednesday morning, I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled that trophy over my head in my mind. When you’re in the moment, you can’t help but be proud.”
The trick is realizing that the moment has passed, though Sporting KC hopes to build off the momentum generated by the momentous win.
After claiming the 2004 title, the then-Wizards did just that, finishing the season with a 2-0-2 kick and eventually reaching the MLS Cup final — a controversial 3-2 loss against the D.C. United.
“I think it will give us a big lift,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “I hope so. This is a pretty big deal. Hopefully, we can ride this momentum into some games in league.”