Quick: Which MLS team has won the most US Open Cup titles?
That’s arguably a trick question, as three different sides – Chicago Fire FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City – have raised the historic trophy four times each. With the first two eliminated from the competition’s 2022 edition, perhaps the latter can take sole ownership of that trivia answer and make it five.
SKC booked a quarterfinal ticket Wednesday night, earning a 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo FC behind a brace from captain Johnny Russell. Their MLS regular season efforts have included far more stops than starts, uncharacteristically sitting 13th in the Western Conference standings, but a cup run is well underway.
“We’re fighting through it right now. It’s a mentality. We need to be tough,” center back Andreu Fontas said. “We know that we are suffering this season and that things are not as we expected at the beginning of the season. No excuses.
“We have to fight through it and get results. We are going in the right direction. Everybody is fighting, everybody is giving everything that they have. We probably are not doing our best the whole game, but everybody is pushing together in the same direction and it’s huge.”
Russell now has four goals in SKC’s last four matches across all competitions, sparking a mini 2W-0L-1D run since a 7-2 loss at the Portland Timbers left him saying “I'm embarrassed to call ourselves professionals.”
For Russell’s latest act, his 52nd-minute equalizer was a spectacular solo effort from distance after appearing to be fouled. Then his 73rd-minute penalty kick sealed the comeback at Children’s Mercy Park after Dynamo forward Corey Baird had put the visitors ahead just before halftime.
It’s the type of virtuoso performance manager and sporting director Peter Vermes has grown to expect from the Scotsman.
“It's what the captain is supposed to do,” Vermes said. “At the end of the day, that's why he's the captain and I don't mean that comically. He's the captain. He's the leader. That's why the guys respect him. He wins all the time. He wins in practice.
“He brings it to the game week in and week out and that's why the team follows him. He brings a level of energy and a level of competitiveness that is a great example for every guy on our team and it's infectious. Don't get me wrong, the other guys are working, they're trying, they're fighting, but at the end he finds a way. It's apropos.”
To keep their Open Cup ambitions going, Sporting KC next must accomplish something no other MLS team has in 2022: beat USL League One outfit Union Omaha. The third-division side has knocked out Chicago and Minnesota United FC thus far, and now they’ll visit the ‘Blue Hell’ on June 22. That match will be SKC’s third coming out of the June international break.
Perhaps another rousing performance from Russell will arrive, as he’s been dealing with injuries and nonetheless led the group forward.
“I’ve been struggling with a couple of things, but I’m not the only guy struggling at the minute,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of guys pushing through things. It’s not just me. I’m never going to use that as an excuse. I’ve made myself available for my team and I’m going to continue to do that until it’s physically impossible.”
SKC’s other Open Cup match this year similarly featured a comeback, as they beat FC Dallas 4-2 in extra time. That was also at home, a benefit in any tournament.