“The Cup stays here” was the phrase blazoned before the match by Sporting Kansas City. And Yohan Croizet’s wonder strike made sure that the US Open Cup trophy would stay for at least another round. Sporting Kansas City, the defending Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Champions, hosted FC Dallas, the 2016 champions who were knocked out by Kansas City in last season’s quarterfinals, Saturday evening at Children’s Mercy Park for a round of 16 matchup. In a see-saw match began on shaky ground for the hosts, two goals by Daniel Salloi and Croizet’s strike outdueled those by FC Dallas’s Carlos Gruezo and Roland Lamah.
A flat, out-of-synch Sporting Kansas City were uncharacteristically being out-thought and certainly slow to react in the first 28 minutes as FC Dallas created several opportunities off their high press and creativity. At the center of it all was a Kansas City backline sloppy and indecisive with their passing and Maximiliano Urruti for the guests.
Urruti was a nuisance early with his pressure and his sneaks behind the backline that resulted in two attempts that forced Sporting goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas into diving saves, and, predictably, he was part of FC Dallas breaking on top. His ball to Michael Barrios in minute 18 saw the Colombian attacker take advantage of indecision between Zendejas, who nearly came to meet the ball, and a marking Jaylin Lindsey. Off the bounce, Barrios struck but Zendejas was equal. However, a smart Barrios lofted the rebound over the netminder for Carlo Gruezo who stabbed the ball into the empty net.
The Sporting attack, stalled by poor crosses in approach, still sputtered. And nine minutes later, Barrios and Maynor Figueroa found space with a give-and-go that forced an Opara clear on the return pass.
Yet Sporting would find a way, even after a weak attempt from striker Diego Rubio in the 33rd minute from 12 yards after dribbling horizontally by two FC Dallas defenders into space.
Both near-goat and hero earlier, Opara found dominance in the attacking end in a wild sequence. Began by a Roger Espinoza header that forced a leaping save from Hoops ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez, the flurry saw Emiliano Amor and Opara both hit the woodwork on a header and a shot, respectively, in the box. Then, as the ball cycled back to Zusi on the left side, he flighted a cross to the back post. Opara wisely reversed the ball with a back-post header where winger Daniel Salloi tapped the ball in for the equalizer just two minutes before halftime.
To push Sporting Kansas City’s offensive momentum, manager Peter Vermes inserted Scottish winger Johnny Russell for Rubio 20 minutes into the second stanza. Russell, scorer and helper in 2-0 win at Real Salt Lake in Kansas City’s first Open Cup match of the season last week, entered to a hero’s welcome. One minute later, Salloi would get his second on the night.
Midfielder Wan Kuzain danced through the top of the box and dished for the Hungarian Homegrown. Salloi opened right and fired a low shot that found space between FCD’s Gonzalez and his near post to give the hosts a now well-deserved lead.
Striker Khiry Shelton returned to the lineup after a three-match absence in all competitions for Gerso Fernandes in the 74th minute.
Though absorbing Kansas City’s pressure, FC Dallas still created dangerous forays forward. Their 77th minute attack would pay off. Sporting KC’s Zendejas pushed away a cross in a crowded box only to see it fall to Roland Lamah. The Belgian attacker, the author of six goals and four assists in the MLS regular season, faked a shot that sent one defender flying before releasing a ball that deflected off one Kansas City defender and eluded two more on its way into the net at the far post. Overtime now beckoned to see which side would move onto the quarterfinals.
Yet the amazing would intervene. Inserted for Salloi in the 85th minute, French winger Yohan Croizet belted a left-footed volley 21 yards out from the left top of the box off an errant clearance into the upper 90 to the right of a stunned Gonzalez four minutes after entering.
The wonder striker from the much-maligned designated player stood for the win for the defending champions.
Sporting Kansas City will now travel to the winner of the Houston Dynamo and Minnesota United match being played on June 18 for their quarterfinal match in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.