KANSAS CITY, Kan. (June 22, 2022) – Just 155 miles separate the two teams meeting in the inaugural match of the I-29 Derby, and Omaha was attempting to further cement their names in the history books as the first third-division club to defeat three MLS teams in the Open Cup.
Union Omaha and Sporting KC were dueling it out for a semifinal date with USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC. The Owls attempting to “do the impossible” as head coach Jay Mims would later put it, looking to become the second non-MLS team to make the semis this season.
Sporting has seen a less-than-ideal start to its MLS season, sitting at 12th in the Western Conference with a 4-9-4 record, although coming in with some momentum after shaking things up with a win Sunday at Nashville FC. They have had, however, more success with their Open Cup run, which they have historically performed well in. The four-time Open Cup champions, the most recent coming in 2017, were hoping to improve on their all-time 2-4 mark in the tournament against third-division clubs and put an end to the streak of MLS defeats at the hands of the Owls.
It was a short trip down that many Omaha faithful committed to, bringing out a solid supporters’ section to its nearest pro-soccer neighbor at Children’s Mercy Park. Combined with the thousands in blue, it made for an electric atmosphere on a Wednesday night.
From the start of the match, it was clear reigning USL League One Golden Glove winner Rashid Nuhu was going to have his hands full. He started off the game hot, making a pouncing block across the face of goal off a rocket of a shot.
A would-be pivotal moment for the Owls came in the 6th minute, starting with a Ryen Jiba interception around midfield. Joe Brito carried the ball upfield and delivered it to Hugo Kametani, who spun around and set to take a close shot on goal but was swallowed up by Kansas City’s keeper before he could do so.
Dániel Sallói opened up the scoring for Kansas City and a long night for the Owls’ defense. A Johnny Russell cross sent Khiry Shelton in motion to deliver a centering pass into the box for Sallói to drive in and put the home side up 1-0. In a familiar position, there was no panic for the Owls, who had perhaps been counted out before after falling behind against MLS sides in both of their comeback victories against Chicago Fire and Minnesota United.
Nuhu would respond with another excellent leaping dive to bat off a hard shot outside the box from Russell. He came up with another wild save off of Russell in the 28th minute, as the Kansas City captain remained persistent in putting tough shots on goal.
The Owls applied pressure in the half, hoping for a chance to spring on the counterattack, but just weren’t able to string together a solid series of passes into the final third against the formidable Kansas City defense.
Sporting found the goal again in the 37th minute off a prime set piece opportunity and header from Kortne Ford. It was a goal that put the hosts up 2-0 over the Owls, who now had their work cut out for them to turn the game around in the final half if they wanted to join Sacramento in securing another “cup-set” and setting up an all-USL final.
Omaha found life again in the 50th minute, moving quickly up the field and working to create a spark. Conor Doyle delivered a cross into to Kametani, who made a sliding effort but couldn’t push past the keeper in goal.
In the 53rd minute, Salloi secured a brace. The Owls’ defense made a strong effort, but the Hungarian national team member would not be denied as he utilized some impressive footwork to make it 4-0. Shelton added another for Kansas City just 3 minutes later, rendering Omaha’s dreams of a comeback virtually nonexistent.
Felipe Hernandez went on a tear of his own, scoring back-to-back goals in the 66th and 81st minute to bring the score up to 6-0. It was an offensive onslaught for the Owls’ defense, who have never given up more than 2 goals in a single match.
The Owls, who are usually accustomed to lower possession, were held to a season-low 22%. But as lopsided as the scoreline may have appeared, Nuhu had a big night, tying his club record of 6 single-match saves.
“We obviously, as Kansas City showed, we have some holes and we’ll have to fix that stuff,” Mims said. “We had some positive moments, and we’ll have to watch those, because [if] we do it well here, we can do it against anybody.”
In the end, it was just too much Kansas City for the Owls to handle, but the inaugural Open Cup was anything but disappointing. Omaha was the first third-division team since 2013 to make the quarterfinals and the first-ever from Nebraska. It was the first USL League One club to defeat an MLS team and the only to do so twice. And while Sporting fans had started heading for the exits in the second half, the fans in volt stayed until the end to give a standing ovation for everything their team had accomplished.
“Not the result we were looking for,” Mims said. “We’re competitive people, but I think once the guys sit back and look at the run they had and the amazing environment there was tonight, I think it will be great to look back. Just not tonight.”
Although the Open Cup bid has come to a close, Mims and his squad can now turn their attention solely onto USL League One play and finishing right where they left off last season.
“Can’t wait to rest up here and then start focusing on the league and concentrating on hopefully getting another championship for our supporters this year,” Mims said.
The Owls will look to do just that and rebound from their second league loss with a trip to South Georgia Tormenta FC at 6:30 p.m. on June 25. It’s a return to Werner Park after that, playing host to Charlotte Independence at 7:00 p.m. on July 1 for Youth Soccer Night.
ABOUT UNION OMAHA Union Omaha, the 2021 USL League One Champion, is the only professional soccer team in the state of Nebraska. USL League One is a United States Soccer Federation-sanctioned professional men’s soccer league that occupies the third tier of the American soccer landscape, below USL Championship (tier two) and Major League Soccer (tier one). Union Omaha plays its home matches at Werner Park in Sarpy County, also home to the Omaha Storm Chasers of Minor League Baseball. The team is led by General Manager Peter Marlette in the front office and by Head Coach Jay Mims on the field.