If Orlando City SC is going to end reigning champion Sporting Kansas City’s run in the 100th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it will have to do so without the four players on loan from its MLS affiliate.
That means the Lions will be without their leading scorer, forward Dom Dwyer, and also can’t use goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defender Yann Songo’o or midfielder Christian Duke when the clubs clash in the fourth round of the tournament at 7:30 p.m. June 12 at Sporting Park.
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“From our perspective, it’s a really easy decision,” Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said. “Those loan guys obviously aren’t going to play against us. It’s a competition that we take very seriously, and those guys are all good players that could impact it in a negative way from our perspective.”
Heineman said excluding those players from games against Sporting KC was part of the original loan agreement. It’s also in keeping with standard operating procedure domestically and internationally when players on loan are slated to face their parent club, primarily to alleviate the potential for match-fixing.
“The issue was that those guys are really with us, and we’re playing against them in a competition that’s a single-game elimination deal,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “Logically speaking, our ownership group felt like it’s not wise to have our players playing against us and ultimately having the chance to knock us out of something. For one game, it doesn’t make sense.”
Dwyer, who was Sporting KC’s first-round pick in 2012, is highest profile of four players Sporting KC loaned as part of an affiliate arrangement with Orlando City, which plays in USL Pro, a third-tier U.S. pro soccer league.
In 10 USL Pro matches, Dwyer leads Orlando City with 13 goals, which is seven more than any other player in the league. He scored two second-half goals, including the game-winner in the 48th minute, against the Colorado Rapids in Tuesday’s 3-1 win during the third round of the Open Cup.
Songo’o, a discovery signing from Spain in his first season with Sporting KC, also started against Colorado.
Kempin, who signed as Sporting KC’s first Homegrown Player, started in Orlando City’s second-round Open Cup match, a 2-1 win against the Ocala Stampede of the fourth-tier Premier Development League.
“It’s an ownership decision at the end of the day, but we’re playing in this competition and we’re paying those guys,” Vermes said. “Why would we let them have the possibility to come in and knock us out? The norm around the world is that those guys wouldn’t be allowed to play against you, so this isn’t something different. It’s really a layup.”
If U.S. Soccer had the foresight to put MLS teams on opposite sides of the bracket from their affiliates, the problem wouldn’t have arisen unless both teams made the championship.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to hit each other this early on when we expected them to be on the other side or for us to be on the other side,” Vermes said. “If they were on the other side of the bracket, that would have easily helped this situation at least for a few more games.”
As it stands, Orlando City must adjust.
“It is obviously a very difficult situation for everyone concerned,” Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said in a statement on the club’s website. “I can understand Sporting’s position on this. They are paying the boys’ salaries and paying for them to be here with us. The last thing they want is them playing against them.”
Make no mistake, though, Sporting KC doesn’t believe it now gets a free pass to the quarterfinals.
“They’re a very good team and have more than enough players to be able to come and make it a very difficult match for us,” Vermes said. “We realize that. That’s why we have a relationship with them.”