You could feel it in the smoke-filled, humid late-September air. The 21,523 Sporting Kansas City faithful in attendance could feel it, as they waved their flags and scarves through the air.
Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes could feel it, as he flailed his arms relentlessly in the air.
And forward Latif Blessing could certainly feel it, as he met the ball in the air to bring Kansas City their first U.S. Open Cup trophy since 2015.
The 5-foot-5 Blessing, standing unmarked in the center of the New York Red Bulls penalty box, towered above the rest to stand on top of the world as he headed home the winning goal.
Just like he’d envisioned in his head, the Ghanaian powered his header past New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who could only get a palm on the ball, and into the top corner in the 25th minute.
“It was my first time using my head to score. I have to jump to score many, so if more goals can come, maybe I can head it to score more for the club,” Blessing said with a smile. “This is my first time lifting the championship, so I’m very, very happy. So happy.”
The U.S. Open Cup Final between Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls was never going to be a dull affair.
It took just four minutes for a player to enter the referee’s book, as Kansas City defender Seth Sinovic earned a yellow for a late challenge on New York’s Tyler Adams. Seconds later, Kansas City forward Diego Rubio sneakily kicked out at New York’s Felipe Martins right behind a referee's back, bringing roars of anger from the small section of New York fans in the southeast corner.
Neither side seemed overly content on slowing down or keeping control of the ball either, with both sides having chances while the game was still scoreless. Kansas City forward Gerso Fernandes looked destined to score in the 10th minute, but while looking indecisive between shooting or passing the ball, he sent a weak pass across the box that was cleared by New York.
New York star forward Bradley Wright-Philips also had two golden opportunities within a six minute span, but was unable to get the ball under control and take a shot either time.
Attacking towards the ever-present Kansas City Cauldron supporters group, Kansas City made the breakthrough when midfielder Benny Feilhaber played a ball out wide to right-back Graham Zusi. From there, Zusi tallied his eighth assist of the season as he sent into the box an inch-perfect cross that found the rising head of Blessing.
“Great goal, beautiful cross, excellent run by Latif [Blessing],” Vermes said with a glass of wine by his side. “He was a handful, he played very, very, very well.”
Both sides continued to attack relentlessly as the half went on, with Kansas City totaling eight shots by half time, while New York had five of its own.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with the pair of sides combining for 30 fouls throughout the course of the game. The rough play from New York saw all three Kansas City forwards – Blessing, Gerso and Rubio – exit the game with injury.
New York came out looking the team more likely to score in the second half, putting heavy pressure on Kansas City’s goal, but goalkeeper Tim Melia remained strong to hold back the barrage.
Just when things were getting a little nervy for the home crowd, substitute forward and home-grown player Daniel Salloi put those feelings to bed in the 66th minute. Latching onto a beautiful long pass from Feilhaber, the Hungarian international caught the New York defense sleeping and beat Meara to roll the ball home.
The 21-year old celebrated in front of the South Stand amid a shower of blue confetti before being swamped by his teammates.
But, as it could maybe be expected by a team who had never even led a championship game by two goals or more in its entire history, Kansas City did not hold onto the two-goal lead.
Right when the fourth official held up his board to indicate six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game to a cacophony of groans around the stadium, Wright Phillips latched onto a saved shot from Melia to blast the ball into the roof of the net.
But it was too little too late for New York.
On the second-to-last kick of the game in the 97th minute, Felipe fired a free kick from 20-yards out narrowly over the Kansas City crossbar and into The Cauldron.
Children’s Mercy Park immediately exploded into cheers.
With the ball still high in the air off goalkeeper Tim Melia’s goal kick, referee Hilario Grajeda blew on his whistle one last time, indicating Kansas City had once again won a trophy on their home turf.
Queen’s “We are the Champions” rung around Children’s Mercy Park as Kansas City lifted the U.S. Open Cup on the field that was now flooded with fans and media. The victory means Sporting KC has now won the U.S. Open Cup three times in the past six years.
“If I remember correctly, 99 teams started out in this tournament,” Vermes said. “So for us to host the trophy at the end of the knockout stage, it’s pretty impressive by this group to have done it a third time now.”