Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara didn’t need the acrobatic bicycle kick for his latest score. He almost certainly won’t be showing up on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list for this one, either.
But the effects are just the same.
For the second time in five days, Opara tallied a game-winning goal, this one the initial breakthrough in Sporting KC’s 2-0 road win against Houston in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Opara, a central defender, leads all Sporting KC players with four goals in June across all competitions. He did not score in the first two months of the season.
“I actually called that one,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes joked in a postgame call, before adding, “I think he needed to break open his account. Since he has, his timing is getting better and better.”
Sporting KC, which also got a late dagger from winger Gerso Fernandes, moves on to the quarterfinals of the Open Cup bracket. It will play host to FC Dallas on July 11.
After Opara used a bicycle kick to score in a win against the LA Galaxy on Saturday — a play that slotted as No. 1 on “SportsCenter” — he scored in a more accustomed style Wednesday. He finished off a corner kick with a header that bounced across the line in the 61st minute. Kevin Ellis and Ilie Sanchez were credited with assists.
Fernandes added his second Open Cup goal in second-half extra time on a counter play.
Sporting KC played without four starters — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer — a conundrum that could persist in some form for a month.
“It was a great opportunity for us to see where players are in their progression,” Vermes said. “It’s also a little bit of a difficulty (for them) because they lack rhythm, but I have to say that this was good.”
The injury to Feilhaber is an ankle sprain — and therefore not as bad as initially feared — but the timetable for his return remains unclear. The remaining three starters absent (Besler, Zusi and Dwyer) are with the United States men’s national team for the Gold Cup.
Aside from those expected absences, Vermes opted to play his top lineup in the Open Cup. It’s been a staple of his tenure, which has resulted in two championships. Overall, the franchise has won three Open Cup titles (2004, 2012 and 2015).
Houston eliminated Sporting KC from the competition last season. Nearly one year later, Sporting KC held Houston off the scoreboard.
Barely. Three minutes after Opara put Sporting KC in front, defender Saad Abdul-Salaam clipped the leg of Houston midfielder Memo Rodríguez in the penalty area. But referee Fotis Bazakos showed a yellow card to Rodriguez for simulation.
The return to MLS play arrives Saturday — still with a shorthanded lineup — and it’s coupled with a return to Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting KC, in first place in the Western Conference, will play host to Portland at 6 p.m. in its first home match since June 14.
“I actually think (with) the game on the weekend, this helps us a lot because it puts us in a place where all these guys just did it and it won’t be too far away from their memory,” Vermes said.
Sporting Kansas City 2, Dynamo 0
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam (Erik Palmer-Brown, 74th), Ike Opara, Kevin Ellis, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Jimmy Medranda; Gerso Fernandes (Kharlton Belmar, 90th+4), Cameron Porter (Soni Mustivar, 54th), Latif Blessing.
HOUSTON: Joe Willis; Kevin Garcia, Jalil Anibaba, Taylor Hunter, Dylan Remick; Charlie Ward, Eric Bird (Joseph Holland, 81st); Andrew Wenger (Boniek Garcia, 62nd), Alex (Ruben Luna, 68th), Memo Rodriguez; Vicente Sánchez
Kansas City: 1, Opara (Ellis, Sanchez), 61st minute. 2, Gerso (Blessing), 90th+1 minute.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Espinoza, 49th.
Houston: Bird, 23rd; Wenger, 48th; Rodriguez.