Since Sporting Kansas City rebranded in 2011, the club has won three championships — the 2012 U.S. Open Cup, the 2013 MLS Cup and the 2015 U.S. Open Cup.
A trio of players have started all three finals — captain Matt Besler, left back Seth Sinovic and right back Graham Zusi.
An opportunity for a fourth championship awaits Wednesday, when Sporting KC plays host to the New York Red Bulls in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final at 8 p.m.
The previous three have a striking similarity — they all required penalty-kick shootouts. But they otherwise each took on a life of their own.
More on what stood out to three veterans...
2012 U.S. Open Cup
Sporting KC 1, Seattle 1 (Sporting KC wins 3-2 on penalty kicks)
Zusi: “I remember the (43-minute weather) delay before the game. I remember walking back out and seeing a completely full stadium, which really surprised me. I think that really gave us a boost for that game. But to be honest, that game was kind of a blur for me. A lot of finals are like that, especially the first ones. I hardly remembered anything about my first (college) national championship. And that game was the same way.”
Sinovic: “That was the first final for our new stadium, and the energy was electric. I think our fans, as far as the Open Cup tournament goes, it took them a little bit to get into it. But once they knew we had a final, it was a completely different story. I was at a loss for words for how amazing the atmosphere was.”
Besler: “That was a new experience for all of us, so we really didn’t know what to expect. We were playing a Seattle team that was the complete opposite. They were in their (fourth) straight final. I think we learned a lot that night. We learned that a final is different than any other game. It has a nervous energy to it. You have to manage that. You have to realize the game is still 90 minutes long.”
2013 MLS Cup
Sporting KC 1, Real Salt Lake 1 (Sporting KC wins 7-6 on penalty kicks)
Zusi: “The cold. That’s obviously the first thing you think of. But I remember realizing that day how important it was that we were at home and how we came about getting homefield advantage in our last game of the (regular) season. I think we had a lot of confidence going into that game because of that. That game, aesthetically, probably wasn’t the best, just because it was 10 degrees and the pitch was frozen solid. But we found a way to win.”
Besler: “With the weather, you knew it wasn’t going to be a game we’d win with (pretty) soccer and a bunch of passes leading up to a goal. Having that experience in 2012 really helped us, especially with the way the game played out. We give up an early goal, and we’re losing. But I think we played a really smart game. We didn’t panic. And when it went to penalties, we thought, ‘all right, we’ve been here before.’”
Sinovic: “Me, personally, I remember that I couldn’t even watch the PKs. I didn’t get nervous for mine, because I’m in control of that. But I literally couldn’t watch my teammates take PKs. I couldn’t handle the nerves. I had to look down and wait to hear what the crowd was doing.”
2015 U.S. Open Cup Cup
Sporting KC 1, Philadelphia 1 (Sporting KC wins 7-6 on penalty kicks)
Sinovic: “That was a tough game. They scored early, and then Krisztian (Nemeth) comes back and scores a really, really nice goal. But what stands out to me is the quality of our penalties in that game. On four or five, their goalie guessed correctly, but everything was side netting or upper 90.”
Zusi: “I remember us relying so much on our experience. We had been there before. I think it allows you not to get too excited or hyped up for it. You can treat it like any other game, even though you still know what’s at stake. I think everything leading up to the game can sometimes take you off your preparation. But we were Steady Eddie. We didn’t play very well in the first half, but our experience got us through that game.”
Besler: “That one was different for me because it wasn’t on our home field, and it felt like we were on the other side of things. We were the Seattle of 2012, because Philadelphia was in our position — this was really going to jumpstart their organization and their culture. ... At that point, I was the captain, so I had more responsibilities. In the earlier two, I was just a young player and one of the guys. This time, you know more. You think about things like trying to get your team ready. So I have more vivid memories of that game because of all of the preparation for it.”