The most recent time Minnesota United played Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup, a Loons lineup of mostly bench players dropped a 4-0 match at Children’s Mercy Park to a starter-heavy opponent.
“We got smoked,” Loons center back Brent Kallman recalled. “ ... They really played us off the field that game.”
That was two years ago, though, and now United has a chance to pay back that embarrassment when the teams meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Allianz Field. But even with home-field advantage, advancing in the tournament that pits all levels off U.S. Soccer against each other won’t be easy.
In nine MLS and Open Cup games against Kansas City since 2014, United has won just once. In Open Cup play, the Loons have only advanced as far as the round of 16, while Kansas City has won the competition four times.
Center back Ike Opara scored the opening goal for Kansas City in that 2017 thrashing. Traded to United ahead of this season, he said his former team’s success in the tournament came down to “taking it seriously.”
“The Open Cup is never easy. It really isn’t. It’s a grind,” Opara said. “There’s already a mind-set of people wanting to be lax because it’s during the MLS season. And so if you’re not ready to play, it’s not going to go well for you.”
Until this Open Cup match was scheduled, Opara wasn’t planning on facing his old squad until a regular-season trip south in August. That might remain the case. Both him and Kallman are listed as questionable for the game, while several other injuries and national team duty absences have coach Adrian Heath planning to field a short bench of 14 to 15 players.
Kansas City will be in the same spot. The perennial powerhouse is 10th in the MLS Western Conference at 3-5-7 — United sits sixth at 6-7-3 — and also will miss numerous players because of injuries and national team duty.
However, Kansas City always seems to navigate through such adversity on the foundation of longtime coach Peter Vermes’ system. While Heath said he has altered his formation and playing style depending on what players he has available, Kansas City rarely deviates.
“If ever there’s a club that’s got an identity of what they are, it’s Kansas City,” Heath said. “They very rarely change from their 4-3-3 system. Occasionally, they might tweak it a wee bit. But they buy people to the system. They buy people to fit specific roles within that team. And I don’t expect any difference [Wednesday] night.”
Kallman said it definitely “bugs” the Loons to have fared so poorly against one of their biggest rivals. Especially since Kansas City has long been a model United has tried to emulate.
Opara now knows what it’s like to be on the side of setting the standard and aspiring to it. He said it’s important the Loons not only “understand the magnitude of games against Kansas City” but all opponents.
“We want to show that we belong,” Opara said, “regardless of whether it be Open Cup or MLS Cup or against Kansas City.”