By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — With a chance to host the US Open Cup final on the line, Sporting Kansas City rose to the occasion and did what they had to do.
Sporting KC posted a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union in their Open Cup semifinal at PPL Park on Wednesday night, earning the right to host the 2012 US Open Cup Final at Livestrong Sporting Park against the defending champion Seattle Sounders, which routed Chivas USA, 4-1, in Wednesday night's other semifinal.
The U.S. Open Cup Final will be played on Aug. 8th at Livestrong Sporting Park.
After 65 minutes of chippy, scoreless soccer, Jacob Peterson gave Kansas City a lead when he finished a Graham Zusi cross, fooling Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Sporting then held steady against waves of pressure from Philadelphia, and in stoppage time Zusi caught MacMath out of his net with a long-distance goal that sealed the win.
The game was a far cry from the teams' last meeting in late June, when Philadelphia routed Sporting, 4-0, in John Hackworth's second game as interim manager of the Union. This time around, Kansas City didn't allow the Union anything on offense as they contained Philadelphia playmakers Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made some big plays.
"We had a chance to come back and get a little payback," said Sporting coach Peter Vermes. "They handed it to us that night, and I think the guys were locked into the result, knowing what they had to do, and I think they did a very good job."
Chances were few and far between for both teams throughout the match, which was marked by a high foul count. Philadelphia committed 19 fouls, but could only muster one shot on goal. Kansas City were whistled for 15 fouls and had three shots on goal. The referee issued six yellow cards throughout the match.
"Unfortunately, sometimes what happens is that there's no consistency in the calls," Vermes said. "And then all of a sudden, even the crowd gets into it, and I don't blame them, because they think it should be a foul, but it's not, and then the next one it's not but he calls it anyway. I think the game gets a little bit out of hand then, you lose the rhythm."
The first 65 minutes were filled with chippy play from both teams, and both coaches agreed that the officiating was inconsistent.
"I'm surprised I was still on the field at the end of the game," Hackworth said. "It's completely baffling, that's all I can say. I don't know how a player or coach can stay and play their game, manage what they have to manage, when that kind of stuff happens."
It wasn't until Peterson's goal in the 65th minute that the respective offenses woke up. Graham Zusi sent a cross into the box and Peterson got his head to it. His attempt fooled MacMath, who thought the ball was going wide but it snuck in at his near post.
"From the side it definitely looked like he thought it was going wide, but that's our fault," Hackworth said. "To give up a goal like that, we have to learn from our experiences. Zac's been fantastic for us all year, and he's a young goalkeeper who will learn from this."
Despite good pressure from Philadelphia in the last half hour, with substitutes Antoine Hoppenot and Gabriel Gomez leading the way, Sporting held strong and in stoppage time, when MacMath creeped upfield to take a throw-in, Zusi gained possession and caught him out of his net with a long-distance goal that sealed Kansas City's spot in the final.
"As a whole, we did very well, especially defensively. We were very organized," Zusi said. "We really locked down the passing lanes and didn't let them get behind us at all. A really different story from the last time we were here. I thought we made the right adjustments and really operated the gameplan very well."
Now Sporting Kansas City can turn their attention to the final, which they will host at Livestrong Sporting Park regardless of which team wins the other semifinal between Seattle and Chivas.
"It's going to be incredible," Zusi said. "The fans deserve some kind of hardware and we're glad to bring it back home and try to get it in front of them."