Sporting KC Youth Comes Through Thanks to Veteran Push

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Sporting KC
Kansas City, KS-Latif Blessing (center), celebrates with the fans after Sporting KC won the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Mandatory Credit- Henry Hauck

Editorial (September 21, 2017)- Sporting KC’s 2017 US Open Cup run was largely spurred by a strong core of guys who have won multiple trophies with the club. But in the US Open Cup Final, it was time for the younger generation to step up, and they delivered thanks to some help from “the elders.”

Sporting KC Youth Comes Through Thanks to Veteran Push

Last night’s final brought about two incredible moments that not enough people understood the gravity of. Manager and Technical Director, Peter Vermes, has done his best to use his own experience in captaining the then-named Kansas City Wizards to the 2004 US Open Cup title, and pass it on down to his team. Since he took over full time in 2011, Sporting KC has been a playoff team for six years running and has now won four major trophies in that span of time. The latest of those trophies was filled with many of the same storylines.

One prevalent one is that in every final since 2013, someone gets injured and has to be subbed early. In the 2013 MLS Cup Final, Oriol Rosell succumbed to injury in the 8th minute of the match. In 2015, Seth Sinovic was subbed off due to injury as well. This time around, it was the initial goalscorer, Latif Blessing. On came Daniel Salloi.

“It’s funny because before we walked out, Roger came up to me and told me that every final someone gets hurt, so be ready and come in focused. And I was like ‘Ok Good,'” said Salloi.

Salloi eventually went on to score the game winner which he was understandably ecstatic about. Sporting won 2-1 and the core of this team continues it’s trophy haul.

But the storyline that changed this time, was that it was the veteran core playing the role of provider to the young core.

Latif Blessing is 20 years old, and Daniel Salloi just turned 21 this summer. Both stepped up with incredible quality in crucial moments. They had their chance, and they took hold of it. Graham Zusi, now there for all four trophies, and Benny Feilhaber, now with three of his own, provided the chances for the youngsters. Both passes were pinpoint in accuracy. Both finishes and the timing of their runs contained the necessary quality. The core has led by example all year long, helping establish that mentality with the younger core of this group.

“I think what we’ve done a great job of this year, is establishing the correct mentality. Obviously it starts with the veteran group, but you’ve got to get credit to the young guys as well who’ve really embraced it,” said Zusi.

Vermes discussed it in his post-match press conference as well.

“We have a lot of guys that have experience. Experience only helps you when you know how to use it in the right time,” he said. “I had a long talk with the veteran players about this, and credit to those guys, they stepped up in the important moments. It’s important for those guys to be able to pass on that experience, but even in the game to the young guys.”

The veteran core set the tone from the beginning of the team’s preparation for the final. “We could feel it throughout the whole week, the whole preparation, that the older players know what they’re doing, and they tried to pass it to us, to know what it’s like to play in the final,” said Salloi. “And it worked out well. We could feel the moment. I think it’s great that we have this, and it’s what makes our team great.”

Players like Salloi and Blessing have really been called upon to step up when Dom Dwyer was traded away. By not going and getting an immediate replacement for Dwyer, Vermes handed the keys to them. It was up to them whether or not to take hold of their chance. That faith has paid off, and it helped them net another trophy.

The question now is whether or not the young blood will be there to pass it on in the future. Salloi joked with us about that prospect. “Yeah, yeah! Next year I’ll tell Gianluca (Busio) how to win.” 

Salloi is known for his jokes, followed by a wry smile. Some could dismiss it as a champagne fueled quip, emboldened by his moment in the spotlight. But you can’t help but think he truly meant it.

After all, it’s what Vermes has built his club around. “Our older players are doing the mentoring they need to do, to help bring those guys along and understand that this club, it truly is about winning. It’s not just talk. So now that they’ve had that experience, it’s a big thing going forward for the future.”

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