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Sporting KC Beats Union Omaha 2-1 to Advance in Open Cup

May 8, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
Sporting Kansas City News Release

Sporting Kansas City earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Union Omaha in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32 at UNO Caniglia Field on Wednesday night. With the score tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, Sporting found a last-gasp winner through Alan Pulido in the final minute of extra time to advance to host FC Tulsa in the Round of 16 on May 21 or 22.

Manager Peter Vermes handed first starts of the season to defender Robert Castellanos, midfielder Felipe Hernandez and forward Khiry Shelton along with a first-ever start in Sporting blue for newcomer Zorhan Bassong at left back. In addition, Kayden Pierre, Nemanja Radoja and Willy Agada also entered the XI with only John Pulskamp, Robert Voloder, Erik Thommy and Marinos Tzionis maintaining their spots from the weekend's match at Real Salt Lake.

Sporting KC started the match brightly with Tzionis and Pierre creating some danger on either flank before both teams began to settle as the half wore on. Sporting created the first proper chance of the match in the 27th minute with Hernandez shimmying on the edge of the area before seeing his low shot saved by Rashid Nuhu.

Two minutes later, Thommy took aim from 25 yards and his swerving effort seemed destined for the top corner but Nuhu managed to get his fingertips to the ball and push it over the bar.

Omaha, who began posing more of a threat on the counter as the half wore on, took the lead in the 31st minute as former Atlanta United Homegrown player and U.S. Youth National Team member Lagos Kunga pounced on a loose ball following a scramble in the box and saw his effort deflected into the back of the net.

Looking to pull level before halftime, Thommy fed Bassong on the edge of the area in the 42nd minute but he saw his half-volley corralled by Nuhu in the Omaha goal.

Sporting got off to the perfect start in the second half when Tzionis won the ball back high up the field and rifled a left-footed effort off the post and in to level the score at 1-1 in the 48th minute.

The visitors began pushing for a go-ahead goal and three minutes later almost found it when Voloder rose highest to meet Bassong's corner kick but directed his header narrowly wide. Omaha almost landed a counterstrike of their own seconds later as Aaron Gomez latched onto a long ball over the top but lofted his finish over the bar with only Pulskamp to beat.

Sporting kept probing throughout the second half and introduced regulars Daniel Salloi, Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell off the bench and it was the Scotsman that almost found the winner in the 88th minute as his curling effort from 25 yards was tipped around the post by Nuhu.

Deep into second-half stoppage time, Voloder fought his way through a crowd of bodies to meet a corner from Russell but once again could only place his header inches wide of the post as the regulation finished 1-1 and the game headed to extra time.

The two sides traded chances in the first period of extra time. Omaha took the initiative early and substitute Ryen Jiba cut inside from the left wing before striking a low effort that trickled just wide of the post in the 94th minute.

As the clock ticked into the 100th minute, Sporting were inches from taking the lead when Russell chested the ball down inside the area and sent a looping finish toward the far post that crashed against the woodwork and out.

With the game seemingly headed to penalty kicks as the clock ticked down to the final seconds, Pulido received a pass from Tzionis on the edge of the area and sent a clinical finish into the bottom corner in the 120th minute to break Omaha hearts and send Sporting through to the Round of 16.

Sporting KC returns to MLS action this weekend with a home match against Houston Dynamo FC at Children's Mercy Park on Saturday night. Kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. CT on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV as well as Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish) on the radio. Tickets are available via


Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

Thoughts on the match...

I told the guys afterwards that this is what this tournament is. This is the way this tournament is. I've been through it, obviously, a lot of times. It's always difficult to play with these teams because, and I don't mean this in a bad way, this is a huge game for them in a lot of ways. Obviously, it's a huge game for us as well. But they're trying to prove other things and you don't have that same motivation that they do. You have a different motivation. You just want to win and advance. They have other things. They want to prove that they should be at this level. These are always very, very tough games. They defended well. They packed it in well. They were looking to play direct and try and get over on you. We made a mistake in the first half on the first goal, but I don't think at any point we were losing control of the game. I thought we did well with possession. I thought we did well with chances. But I think they also packed a lot of numbers in front of the goal. I think it helps that we're a team that can play with the ball, because if you can't, it's very hard to break a team down like that when they pack it in. If you're not a team that can play with it and probe and keep possession and find alleys and find little holes between the lines - if you can't do that, this is a hard game. This is a game you may not come back on, but I credit the guys. The other thing, too, is to score as we did. To score in 120th minute, it just shows the fight within the guys and I appreciate that. Then the other part of it is that, as I told the guys, we started the game with one group that was plan A and we also have plan B and then we actually had to go to plan C because Jake (Davis) had to fill in for a spot that he wouldn't have normally. The guys did really well with that as well.

On the play of Marinos Tzionis...

I thought he was very good on the left in the first half. I thought he was very active. We moved him to the right because we made the changes. I thought he gave us, again, a lot of solutions out there on the right. He has the ability to cut in on both feet. Obviously, he's better when he cuts in and hits it with his right, but a good goal with his left. I thought that he made very good runs in behind, which caused them problems as well. It was good to see. It was a big contribution. The fact that he was able to go 120 minutes too helped immensely. His ability to do that was really good for the team.

On players getting opportunities...

I think the team did a decent job. I do. I think they did a decent job in the game. Unfortunately on the goal, it should have been a routine play for us. We got sucked into a position that we shouldn't have. That part I'll go back and revisit with the guys involved and I kind of already have. But outside of that, there wasn't a lot that we gave up. I say again, I thought that we possessed the ball well. I think a lot of guys were into the game and the things that we talked about before coming here to be prepared for this group, I actually think a lot of guys executed on that.

On the environment...

I have a lot of respect for the environment here for a number of reasons. At the end of the day, this is their home team, but I think there's also a lot of SKC fans here. You could tell. Even when we're coming off the field, they had the Omaha jersey on but they were saying, 'hey, good luck this weekend. We'll be there.' So that's pretty cool. And I respect the fact that they were cheering on their home team. But then also, it's great to see behind the goal especially -- I don't really look up in the stands behind me -- but especially behind the goal. we had a great group of fans there which was tremendous and that helps our team immensely.

On having a minor league team in the region...

You look at how much MLS NEXT Pro is growing with individual teams that aren't even associated to an MLS team. That's really starting to tell you like how regional based the game is going to become over the years. That's why I say this tournament is a great tournament because it gives a chance for all those teams to qualify and you have to play them in these games. Like I said, they're not easy and it gives a great chance for different teams to try to see how they can come up against a higher division team.

On the two goals...

Especially Alan (Pulido), Alan hits that ball quite often. He finds goalkeepers where he almost hits it off speed a little bit. When Marinos (Tzionis) caught the goalkeeper in the second half when he scored. I thought he caught him in the same way. I think also that I just don't think that he was expecting him to shoot as quick as he did when he hit it.

On playing extra time...

It was interesting to see how we were able to hold on. But I think it's good to see a lot of guys that haven't had 90 minutes. They actually played 120 and mentally, they did it.

On Nemanja Radoja wearing the armband...

When we started the game with the group of guys who were on there, I think that he's got a ton of experience. He's just a workhorse on the field. And I think the guys have a tremendous amount of respect for what he does. I loved it because in the overtime, he actually even spoke to the guys and asked Zoran (Savic) to translate a word for him so he could say it to the guys, which was great. That was really good. It was good to see him grow in that regard. He took some responsibility from that perspective. He's a workhorse and he really gets after it.

On preparing for Houston...

Houston had to do the same yesterday. The only thing is they have a day extra rest. We have just got to do the best we can to recover and get ready for that game. It was good. We used all of our subs. Everybody's getting minutes and now we just have got to get ourselves recovered and get ready for Houston on Saturday.

Sporting Kansas City forward Alan Pulido

Thoughts on the match...

We won in the last moment in the game, but we're happy because we needed this result. We need to advance in this cup. I think it was a hard game for us because we played on a synthetic field and they have players that played very good. We won. This is the most important thing and we need to work. We need to work because I think we can do better.

On his goal...

Normally this is my shot when I put the ball behind the defender and I try to score in between the legs because normally the goalkeeper goes a little bit to the left. This happened in this game and I scored. But I am happy because in penalty kicks you never know the result. We won. This is most important.

On playing a lower division team...

It's hard because it's a very big chance and a very big opportunity for them because they play 100%. This is the game for them in their life because if they play a very good game in this tournament, maybe one team will take the players to them. So we know this situation, but I think we had opportunities. The one off the post by Johnny (Russell) and another. We had a lot of chances to score. But this happens with this team and if you make mistakes sometimes in the games then they score. And now it's more difficult to score because they go back on the team and you need to open them. But it's hard. So we are happy because we won this game.

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