NASL's Minnesota United FC fell 2-0 to the reigning Major League Soccer Champions, Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park on a hot and humid Wednesday night in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Minnesota looked to add to its 2014 Spring Season Championship with a victory over the MLS club, but a controversial red card issued to United defender Cristiano Dias in the 50th minute changed the complexion of the game. Goals from Soony Saad in the 76th minute and substitute Alex Martinez in the 87th minute gave Sporting the win.
"We're devastated," said United Coach Manny Lagos. "We consider ourselves to be one of the best clubs in North America regardless of our league and this is a tournament we wanted to play well and do well. I'm very proud of the guys, but we have a standard of trying to do well in these type of games. We had a little bit of a break now where we have to think about how we are going to get better for the second part our season, and have to pick our heads up and compete in our league."
Minnesota United look bright and confident in the early goings of the match, maintaining possession well and looking composed on the ball against the MLS side. Sporting would have the first great chance of the match in the 7th minute as forward Soony Saad blasted a shot from the left edge of the 18 yard box that smashed off the United crossbar. A chance created out of nothing that would allude to the quick strike danger of the MLS club.
Minnesota would answer with a great chance of its own as defender Kevin Venegas, who saw his first action since May 5th after suffering a fractured mandible in training, dashed down the right flank and showcased a nifty bit of skill splitting two Sporting defenders into the penalty area where he blasted a shot at the near post of the Sporting's keeper Andy Gruenebaum who reacted well to make the save.
Minnesota's best chance of the first 45 minutes came just two minutes from halftime as midfielder Daniel Mendes received a cross field pass inside the penalty area which he controlled well and lashed a ball back across the Sporting goal mouth just out of reach of the streaking striker Christian Ramirez at the back post. All it needed was a touch to put the Loons on top before the half.
United entered the locker room at the half feeling confident and capable. Things would change drastically just five minutes into the second half as United defender Cristiano Dias flew in for a fifty-fifty aerial ball, cleanly winning it with a powerful header, but in the process sending a Sporting player to the turf with his momentum. The referee deemed this a serious infraction and issued a red card to Dias, forcing United to finish the game out with ten men.
Sporting would apply continuous pressure as Minnesota struggled to maintain possession and were left constantly in defensive mode. United keeper Mitch Hildebrandt would do his best to keep his side in the game as he made two consecutive spectacular goal saving stops. The first coming in the 64th minute as Sporting forward Dom Dwyer found himself alone on the doorstep only to see his effort saved by the outstretched body of Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt would be called upon just a minute later in the 65th as he thwarted a second golden opportunity from the home side.
North American Soccer League leading goal scorer and assist man, Christian Ramirez, struggled to get touches after his team was forced to play with 10 men, but he did offer a moment of technical brilliance in the 66th minute as he spun beautifully away from pressure on the top of the Sporting penalty area and fired a low line drive that eked just outside the right post.
This would prove to be the final real chance for United as Sporting Kansas City continued to apply relentless pressure. Sporting would eventually break through in the 76th minute as forward Soony Saad received a pass from 30 yards out and laced a low strike into the lower left corner of the goal, beating Hildebrandt.
Sporting would add a brace in the 87th minute as a mad scramble inside the United penalty area led to substitute Alex Martinez scoring his first goal in a Sporting uniform. The match would end in a 2-0 defeat for Minnesota ending its 2014 U.S. Open Cup run.