All good things have to come to an end, and boy did they Tuesday evening when the Richmond Kickers came to town to try and knock off their second consecutive MLS opposition to advance in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Those good things would be Sporting Kansas City's run in the Open Cup, their unbeaten streak in all competitions and being unbeaten in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. A quick counter-attack and some sloppy defending along with an unlucky bounce put all of that to an end. Later came a PK for Richmond, which only solidified their place in the next round of the competition.
To say that the result is disappointing is an understatement, but these are the types of results which happen in tournaments like these - they are the results that make competitions like the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and the FA Cup as great as they are, and, as sports fans, we love the story of an underdog who is able to defy the odds and win when nobody gave them much of a chance - we just want those underdogs to beat other teams than our own.
I personally can't help but to go back to the moment I heard that we would be playing Richmond if, at that time, we managed to hold off the Chicago Fire PDL team. "Great," I thought, "an easy path into the semis... sure, they're good enough to surprise Columbus, but we know not to take them lightly." Then I think towards some of the conversation that went on in the Member's Club before the game, where comments about how we'll be playing the Chicago Fire in the next round since New York Red Bull decided to pretend that their match wasn't even worthy the effort of an exhibition match. It's safe to say that we fans took it for granted that Sporting Kansas City would beat Richmond and progress in the Open Cup, though we did have many reasons to feel confident as well, having put together quite a run since the Open Cup qualifier against New England what seems to be such a long time ago.
Whether or not the team was taking their opposition for granted is another question. It would appear, at least from the lineup that the coaching staff put out, that Peter Vermes and company were not taking Richmond lightly. A squad heavily laden with starters and players who were expected to be starters earlier this year is a far cry from the 2nd and 3rd string squads which have been put out on the fields in MLS side's Open Cup games in the past. The lineup wasn't the 1st choice lineup for the team, for sure, but any absences seemed to be the result of fitness or an attempt to get a slumping player back on track.
The players, however, did not appear to have very much urgency in their game. The first half consisted of Sporting Kansas City controlling a vast majority of possession and yet creating very few meaningful chances out of it. Forwards weren't making dynamic runs, the midfield wasn't working too hard to link up and provide an avenue from the back to the front and the defenders seemed perfectly happy to move the ball back and forth from one side to the other over and over again without making any measurable forward progress. The play was slow, deliberate and very predicable, but still - if you were to ask a neutral watching the game who was more likely to score first I believe most would tell you that it was only a matter of time until a cross found its way to the right person.
About 65 minutes into the match the referee decided that the incoming weather was too dangerous to continue the game and everyone was forced to take cover for an hour and twenty minutes. Nobody in the Member's Club seemed all that worried about how less than a third of the game remained and yet Kansas City had continued to be unable to convert their chances and opportunities into a goal. The biggest worry that most fans had was that the game might not be able to resume and not only did they waste their time waiting around but the game would have to be replayed in its entirety the next day, something that would not help with the team's current problem with fixture congestion.
It's safe to say that many of the fans who made their way back into their seats after the delay were thinking something to the effect of "alright, I stayed, time for the team to put these guys away like we should have been doing already". Little could prepare the home fans, however, for the restart that ensued.
Richmond managed to get a ball in behind Kansas City's backline and David Bulow fed Shaka Bangura who was then able to get off a shot. The shot was deflected by Kansas City goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, but not quite enough as the ball was able tto sneak into the right post.
The goal was a wake-up call, for sure, and Sporting Kansas City started to play with renewed vigor and determination, but Richmond already had the advantage and the confidence, not to mention the ability to bunker and play for a counter attack - which is exactly what they did. Eventually, Richmond's Jamel Wallace was able to get on a fast-break behind the Kansas City defense and Aurelien Collin ended up making a rash challenge which resulted in a penalty kick. Eric Kronberg was able to guess the right way, but the ball managed to get by his hands and to the back of the net.
From that point on it was pretty much a done deal. The best that one could hope for was that they pull off something similar to their visit to Vancouver earlier in the year where Vancouver scored twice in stoppage time to come back for a tie. Unfortunately, it just didn't seem like it was going to happen.
So yet another year in the Open Cup comes to an end. On the bright side, the team already had enough problems with fixture congestion that even the two remaining games for the Cup could be considered a burden. Also, as said before, all good things have to come to an end, but it's not important how those things do end up going away but instead how the team reacts to them and makes things better. If this loss spurs the team onto making the playoffs and possibly even a deep run in them then perhaps it's not a total loss, but you can bet that SKC fans are wanting to see a much better performance in the games to come.