It was a small victory in the rather large, grand scheme of things. It was a win that only puts another fixture on Sporting Kansas City's already-cluttered schedule. But, despite all of that, it was a huge win for spirits and morale of Sporting KC's players that were absolutely devastated last Saturday when they blew a 3-0 lead on the road against Vancouver Whitecaps.
For a defense that was in absolute shambles against Vancouver, Wednesday night was lightyears better. Again, starting were Michael Harrington, Matt Besler and Roger Espinoza against Houston. Inserted into the backline was Shavar Thomas, replacing Julio Cesar Santos, who did not travel due to injury. It was a quick turnaround that saw the group feeling much better about themselves, prompting Besler to tweet postgame "Thats how it's supposed 2 b done! Giving nothing away feels great."
Rookie forward C.J. Sapong is the hero on the scoresheet, as he scored the second professional goal of his career just after the first period of extra time began. But, as was the case on Saturday when Teal Bunbury scored his two goals and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was the real hero by making circus saves time and time again, it was against the Sporting keeper that should be lauded with great praise. Although, this time it wasn't Nielsen minding the often-under attack KC goal. Backup keeper Eric Kronberg, with hair color similar to Nielsen's electric white, was the one standing on his head in front of goal.
He knew he would get the start as early as last Thursday before the Vancouver game, so it would be safe to say he was more than prepared to face Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, and it showed. Though the game was supposed to be streamed live online, via the Houston Dynamo themselves (that attempt ultimately failing miserably), fans everywhere were relegated to listening to the game via an online radio stream. That said, no one can really speak to the level of saves made by Kronberg, but based on the descriptions from the radio broadcaster and the Sporting KC public relations staff conducting a live chat from the stadium, there were some top drawer beauties.
By all accounts, Sapong's goal was nothing to scoff at, either. One MLS league employee described it as "filthy." To me, filthy would be starting Omar Bravo, Bunbury and Kei Kamara as the three forward spearheading the KC attack, then bringing on the super athletic, and fresh, Sapong at halftime, which is exaclty what Sporting head coach Peter Vermes did.
As I talked about prior to the game, Vermes seemed to take this US Open Cup matchup very seriously, fielding a nearly full-strength squad of players, where other teams in the league have chosen to simply blow it off and use it as a chance to play youth players and/or reserves. With no game this coming weekend, it was an ideal chance for key players coming back from injuries (Michael Harrington) and red card suspensions (Omar Bravo) to get a bit of extra work and stay fresh and sharp.
Sporting KC will now host the winner of the DC United, who beat Philadelphia Union Wednesday night, and New England Revolution matchup on April 26. The game is likely to be played on the campus of University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), as past US Open Cup games have been. One would have to think Sporting fans longing for home soccer will absolutely rock a USOC game in any venue in the KC metro area.