Sporting Kansas City are the defending Lamar Hunt US Open champions. They defeated the Philadelphia Union via penalty kicks last year. Jordi Quintilla scored the game winning goal and etched a famous line into our brains stating, "Jake, I go" as he jumped Jacob Peterson in line to take the winning kick.
Since then, things haven't quite gone right for SKC. They were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight time. This time via a cruel double post shot in penalties from Saad Abdul-Salaam. 2016 started good before completely falling apart. Sporting sit in eight place in the Western Conference with an abysmal 5-8-3 record.
In MLS there is always a chance to sneak into the playoffs. As I've detailed, Sporting has an uphill climb to make the playoffs. They probably need something like 1.78 points per game to be one of the top six teams in the West. Only one team in MLS has kept that pace to date (the Colorado Rapids). That is why it is important that Sporting give it their all this Wednesday, June 15, 2016, against Minnesota United FC.
Sporting KC, like all MLS teams, enter the US Open in the fourth round. You may think it goes without saying a team would try to win the older soccer tournament in America but it needs saying. It's rumored that Alec Kann went on loan to the Swope Park Rangers so he could have minutes ahead of the US Open game. Playing Kann may not be a bad idea as Tim Melia has been a bit out of form lately. It's not really Kann I'm concerned about. It's that backups tend to litter these early US Open games.
Minnesota United aren't a team to be taken lightly. They are about to become an MLS Expansion team (possibly as early as next year) and they will no doubt be looking to impress. Not to mention all NASL and USL teams that advance want to put their best foot forward against their older brothers in MLS. Look no further than last year when USL expansion club, St Louis FC, gave Sporting all they could handle.
SKC only won by a score of 1-0. That goal came from Graham Zusi, who hasn't scored in 2016 for his club (unlike his country which he has scored twice for). That said, I want to see the regular starters on the pitch. Ironically Zusi will not be available for his club because he is representing the US Men's National Team in the Copa America. Matt Besler is also on international duty (though he may never step on the pitch).
The good news is Soni Mustivar could be available as his nation, Haiti, was eliminated from the Copa America. That said, it just happened on Sunday, so there is no saying that he'll be available. It would be nice to see Mustivar in the lineup and Benny Feilhaber pushed back up into his usual attacking role. Outside of the Kann news, there is no reason to believe Sporting won't go for it. In 2015 they played most of their usual starters except Krisztian Nemeth, who I believe may have been hurt.
The MLS Injury Report hasn't been updated since June 1st but there is reason to believe that everyone should be healthy (outside of any knocks picked up during training). Nuno Coelho was apparently available against the LA Galaxy but Vermes elected to rest him to not risk further injury. If Coelho and Ike Opara aren't he center back starters Sporting aren't going for it (Sam McDowell is now reporting Coelho is out but Mustivar is available). If Roger Espinoza and Feilhaber aren't starting in the midfield, Sporting aren't going for it. If Dom Dwyer isn't the starting center forward, Sporting aren't going for it.
As much as no one wants to admit this, this may be the only trophy Sporting KC can win in 2016. I've already told you how hard it's going to be to make the MLS Cup Playoffs, let alone win the whole thing. Obviously the Supporter's Shield is even further out of reach. And the CONCACAF Champions League won't be decided until 2017 (not to mention no MLS team has ever won it).
Now there is reason to be optimistic about the first game Sporting KC plays in the US Open. Over the last 10 years they are 8-0 in that game (in 2007 and 2010 they failed to qualify as MLS teams didn't automatically get in). However, in 2013 against a then USL team, Orlando City, Sporting KC were eliminated by a non-MLS club.
Minnesota United will be looking to repeat that feat. These two teams have met in the US Open before. Back in 2014 Sporting won 2-0 on the backs of goals from Soony Saad and Alex Martinez, both of whom are no longer with the club. That game should have an asterisk though as Minnesota were down a man from the 50th minute on and both of Sporting's goals came after that. Sporting got away with playing some backups in that game (Andy Gruenebaum and Kevin Ellis come to mind) but Minnesota could take advantage of that Wednesday.
Sporting also played the Minnesota Thunder (the precursor to Minnesota United) back in the 2009 US Open and won via penalty kicks. They actually loss to the Thunder back in the 2005 version of the US Open Cup. That's more than a decade to go, but that was also when Minnesota weren't even in the second tier (the NASL hadn't yet been revived).
I think Minnesota will beat Sporting if they go with a backup heavy lineup. Learn from the Swope Park Rangers who sat a bunch of starters against the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 on Sunday and went down 2-0 early. They put their starters on in the second half but still lost 2-3. That's a different game if they come out guns blazing from the get go. Here's to Vermes trying to win his 3rd US Open title in five seasons. Trophies matter!