(July 27, 2022) — Sporting Kansas City was eliminated from the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night, suffering a heartbreaking shootout loss after a 0-0 draw against Sacramento Republic FC in a tense semifinal at Heart Health Park.
Despite Sporting attempting a season-high 31 shot attempts over the course of 120 minutes, a delicately poised encounter in the California capital was decided from the spot as Sacramento, a second-division side from the USL Championship, prevailed 5-4 on penalties to continue their Cinderella run into the Open Cup Final against Orlando City SC on Sept. 7.
Sporting Manager Peter Vermes fielded a formidable lineup on Wednesday as wingers Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi flanked Khiry Shelton in attack, newcomer Erik Thommy joined Roger Espinoza and Remi Walter in midfield, and goalkeeper John Pulskamp was protected by a veteran back four of Graham Zusi, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Andreu Fontas and Ben Sweat.
Both sides went agonizingly close to landing the first punch inside three minutes. The visitors were first to threaten as Shelton dragged a breakaway shot inches wide off Russell’s clever through ball before Sacramento’s Jack Gurr hammered a left-footed strike marginally over the crossbar from near the penalty spot.
A few minutes later, Shelton and Russell pressed to create a turnover and afford the Sporting captain a clear look on goal, but Russell was unable to get a clean shot off as multiple Sacramento defenders converged on him. The Scottish forward was on the end of another fleeting chance at the quarter-hour juncture, glancing his header narrowly wide after latching onto Thommy’s corner kick. Shelton then asked further questions of the Sacramento defense by forcing goalkeeper Danny Vitiello into a save and setting up Thommy for a shot at the top of the box that sailed high.
Russell was next to give Sacramento a close shave, buccaneering down the right and trying to chip the keeper only for Vitiello to punch the ball away.
Having weathered an early storm, Sacramento settled into the game and conjured a scare in the 26th minute when Spanish forward Keko Gontan sent a curling effort just beyond the far left post. Shortly thereafter, Republic striker Douglas Martinez poked a close-range shot inches off target.
The end-to-end contest continued to entertain and in the 34th minute, Sporting put Sacramento on the back foot once more. Sweat and Salloi combined neatly along the left flank before the latter found a pocket of space inside the box, only to see his low drive blocked through traffic. Closer to halftime, Salloi slalomed past a pair of Sacramento defenders and cannoned a shot that Vitiello dropped left to cast aside.
The final flashbulb moment of the first half saw Thommy surge into the attacking third from a central position and unleash a 22-yard blast that prompted Vitiello to make another save.
Sporting orchestrated a lovely attacking move nine minutes into the second stanza as Zusi overlapped Russell and pulled a cutback pass across the face of goal to Thommy, who swiveled and had a left-footed shot blocked from 10 yards.
At the opposite end, Pulskamp spared Sporting’s blushes on the hour mark by making a world-class save to deny Gontan from close range, dropping low to his right and sticking out a fist to ping the ball over the bar in the 62nd minute.
As both sides traded jabs into the late stages, Sporting substitute Felipe Hernandez made a quick impact from off the bench in the 87th minute by darting into the final third and uncorking a venomous 24-yard blast that Vitiello parried over the bar. The intervention ensured the sides would end regulation level at 0-0.
Three minutes into the first extra session, an intricate Sporting buildup culminated with Salloi cutting past a defender on the edge of the box and curling a right-footed shot a yard wide of Vitiello’s left-hand post. Salloi was at it again in the 95th minute, unloading a 25-yard sledgehammer that lacked the direction to beat Sacramento’s keeper, then rattled the woodwork with a screaming effort that beat Vitiello but caromed off the underside of the bar before Republic FC managed to clear the danger.
Sporting’s extra-time dominance carried into the 103rd minute when Sweat measured an inch-perfect diagonal ball over the top to Russell, but his subsequent shot fizzed straight into Vitiello’s thankful mitts. The Sacramento gloveman came up big again in the 116th minute, spreading himself to block Russell’s shot from a tight angle to keep the game goalless and seal the fate of a penalty shootout.
Both teams buried their first four spot kicks before Vitiello conjured the decisive save, diving left to cast away Zusi’s well-struck attempt. Captain Rodrigo Lopez then clinched the win for Sacramento by finding the back of the net and condemning Sporting to Open Cup heartache.
The 2022 MLS regular season campaign will resume Saturday when Sporting hosts Supporters’ Shield contenders Austin FC at Children’s Mercy Park. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT with tickets available at SeatGeek.com and live coverage on 38 The Spot, the Sporting KC app and SportingKC.com.