The last time Sporting KC failed to get past the fourth round of the Lamar U.S. Open Cup? 2010. And that was when the then-Kansas City Wizards failed to qualify — when only eight MLS teams made the cut.
When qualifying for the tournament, Sporting KC has never fell earlier than the Round of 16, but that streak — dating back to 1996 — may well be at risk on Wednesday night.
Traveling to Allianz Field to take on Minnesota United in the fourth round for the fourth time in six years, Sporting KC haven’t won a competitive game on the road on American soil this season. So with just 16 points after 15 games in league play, the season is far from lost, but should Peter Vermes make the U.S. Open Cup an afterthought and focus purely on the league?
It may not be in Vermes’ nature to not go full-throttle in all competitions, but I’d like to see him treat the U.S. Open Cup this season similar to how top European teams often treat their domestic cups. Play the younger players in the earlier rounds before unleashing the first team when things get serious. It’s no secret this team needs some rest.
In last year’s fourth-round victory over Salt Lake City, we saw appearances from Gianluca Busio and Wan Kuzain, but even this was at a time when Sporting was battling injuries. The year before that, against Minnesota, Vermes fielded a full-strength squad in Sporting’s 4-0 win, but this team has nowhere near the confidence and the Loons are a much more competent squad.
I think you keep Melia in the game, just to keep him in the groove and not wreck his confidence. But from there, get Medranda another full 90 minutes and try and get Daniel Salloi back into goal scoring form. Give extended appearances to Busio, Kuzain and Gedion Zelalem. Heck, even give Tyler Freeman his professional debut alongside a couple of his younger teammates for the first half.
Sporting’s next game following Wednesday may not be until 10 days later at Colombus, which sounds like plenty of rest, but these first team players need the extra time. And if not the extra time, the warning that their positions aren’t guaranteed and there are plenty of younger players chomping at their heels should be more than enough motivation.
If Sporting KC win? Great, onto the next one and repeat for the Round of 16. And if it loses? Well, that’s more rest for the team to prepare for a playoff push.
Sporting KC fans may not like the idea of it, but looking back on the season, snapping a 9-year-old U.S. Open Cup fourth round record will pale into comparison than pushing hard for the cup and consequentially snapping a 9-year-old MLS playoff berth record.