The recovery routine started within a matter of moments after Sporting Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza left the field late Saturday, and it incorporated an ice bath, a massage and a quick post-game meal. The process wasn’t necessarily atypical, but it adopted a sense of urgency — and necessity — following the club’s eighth straight victory inside its home park.
After all, a pivotal match awaited only three days later.
On Tuesday, Sporting KC will welcome Houston to Sporting Park in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
How quickly was it able to turn its attention from an MLS victory to the knockout tournament?
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“Well, how long ago did the game end?” Espinoza responded. “That’s when I started thinking about Houston.”
Sporting KC can set a new franchise record with its ninth straight home victory across all competitions. It is seeking its first semifinals appearance in the Open Cup since it won the trophy in 2012. The winner Tuesday will face Real Salt Lake next month. Sporting KC would host that semifinal match.
But first things first.
Houston is a familiar opponent — at least in knockout-stage matches. The two clubs met in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 MLS postseason. Sporting KC defeated Houston in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals on its way to winning the MLS Cup, with Dom Dwyer supplying the game-winning goal.
Asked about that moment this week, Dwyer said, “Very focused on Tuesday. We don’t need any extra motivation to play Houston.”
But they may need to battle some fatigue.
During a 2-1 win against Montreal on a hot Saturday night, Sporting KC endured some noticeably tired moments. Dwyer described his feet as “exhausted” after the match, and midfielder Benny Feilhaber said tired legs contributed to him being subbed out of the match in the second half.
Sporting KC is in the midst of three matches in seven days. It returns to MLS action Friday with a trip to Real Salt Lake.
“It’s going to be tough the next two games,” Feilhaber said. “We’re going to give it our all to get to the semifinals. I think everybody knows how much importance we’re putting on that tournament.
“We’ll be ready. We don’t know what the weather will be like or how tired we will be, but we’re going to do everything we can.”
Sporting KC has utilized primarily first-team lineups in its first two Open Cup matches, but those games fell into breaks in the club’s MLS schedule.
That isn’t the case Tuesday.
Nevertheless, coach Peter Vermes still hinted that he plans to use most of his regulars against Houston, and he sat right back Chance Myers over the weekend to prepare him for a busy slate this week.
“The most important game for us right now is tomorrow night,” Vermes said. “They all understand that’s where their focus has to be.”
Houston Dymano at Sporting KC
▪ WHEN: 7:30 tonight
▪ RADIO: WHB (810 AM)