KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Minnesota United’s run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup didn’t officially end until the final whistle of a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park on Wednesday.
Unofficially, though, it ended when United center back Cristiano Dias was shown a straight red card in the 50th minute after his elbow connected with the head of Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer on a 50/50 ball.
Dias left the pitch, leaving his club down a man. United, with the help of some outstanding saves from goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, gamely tried to hold on.
But Sporting KC’s Soony Saad found the net from distance in the 76th minute, and Alex Martinez added an insurance tally in the 87th minute.
The tenor of the match changed with Dias’ ouster, which wasn’t lost on United manager Manny Lagos.
“I would say maybe a yellow. Maybe. The frustrating thing on that play is you have a kid [Dwyer] going down. It looked like a hard, honest challenge. Instead of the ref going over and seeing how the kid is, he just gets a straight red,” Lagos said. “The next thing you know the kid’s back in the game five seconds later, and it’s a straight red?”
Lagos dismissively waved his hand at the notion.
“I think it was probably the worst time to get a red card like that,” Lagos said. “We put a lot of energy in the game. This was our first hot night of soccer … but I’m very proud of the guys. Considering the call and considering the environment, I thought they really responded well.”
Hildebrandt was a good 50 yards from the play but had a chance to view the replay on the video board behind him.
“You can see Cristiano was looking at the ball the entire time. Their guy was looking at the ball the entire time. It may have been a foul, but there was no intent,” Hildebrandt said.
A fairly even match turned into a Sporting KC shooting gallery after that. The defending Major League Soccer champions dominated possession and had ample opportunity to score.
Hildebrandt stuffed two opportunities inside the 6-yard box in consecutive minutes at one point, and managed to corral a shot after punching a Sporting KC free kick clear of his net.
He didn’t have an answer for Saad’s low 25-yard scorcher, however.
“Soony can hit a ball. I’ve known him since high school, and he’s always been able to strike a ball, and it went right through Greg [Jordan’s] legs, skipped off the turf and went over my hand. I thought I had it, but those things happen,” Hildebrandt said.
United’s hopes of a U.S. Open Cup title will have to wait another year.
“I think we’re devastated … We wanted to play well and do well,” Lagos said.