The 102nd edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup concludes Wednesday in Chester, Pa., where Sporting Kansas City takes on the Philadelphia Union.
Here are three keys to victory for Sporting KC:
1. Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi needs to be a driving force. It has been an uncharacteristically quiet season for Zusi, and injuries have played a major part in that — his foot during the preseason, a hamstring strain and concussion early on, and most recently a calf strain. But against FC Dallas on Sept. 19, Zusi bossed the game with three shots and a pair of key passes that set up goals, showing why he’s worth every bit of his $650,000 salary while also harkening back to the form he displayed during his two strongest seasons from 2012-13.
Zusi’s success adds an unpredictable element to the attack, of course, but more importantly it opens the field for Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth and Benny Feilhaber.
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2. Limit Sébastien Le Toux’s productivity, which means shutting down the space in which the Frenchman thrives. Le Toux is regarded as one of the hardest-working players in the league, even at 31 years old, and has been a pillar for the Union with 46 goals in 151 appearances. His M.O. is and has long been stretching opposing defenses by hounding the ball before quietly slipping into space for a scoring opportunity.
Limiting Le Toux also forces the likes of former Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong and Cristián Maidana to create on their own. And while both have shown moments of individual brilliance, they feed off the success of Le Toux.
3. Avoid falling into an early lull. It’s not abnormal for finals’ teams to feel one another out. Sporting KC did so in 2012’s U.S. Open Cup final and again in the 2013 MLS Cup. But Peter Vermes’ side has proved this season that it is not a reactionary team. Getting caught in a cat-and-mouse game of seeing which team will make the first move is the easiest way to get down a goal or two. It’s also never enjoyable to watch, which should be of note in this final, since it’s being broadcast on national television via ESPN2.
Tate Steinlage: @TheFull90