Monday, August 13, 2012

A US Open Cup Experience to Remember

Article by William Schulz

To be completely honest, I haven’t been a “serious” sports fan for very long (I strayed in my adolescence, long story). For reasons I won’t elaborate on here, Kansas City and its stadia became my homes away from home. An unfortunate side effect of that choice was that I became a complete stranger to sports success. The three trophies won by the Wizards were like legends to me, stories that the older guys used to tell about when times were better. Have I used those trophies in arguments with other (NY) fans? Yes. But I have no meaningful attachment to them.

The closest I had come to having a team in serious contention for anything was last season’s Eastern Conference Final. I remember waking up that morning positively nauseous with dread. The match would be played at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park (LSP) against a club KC had already beaten, but I couldn’t shake the feeling we could lose. We did lose, and it hurt. I had been shown the treasure only to have the lid slammed on my fingers.

Even with that experience in the back of my mind, I woke up on the morning of August 8, 2012 without any dread whatsoever. Instead, I was ecstatic over the thought of attending my first Cup final. The tickets had been expensive, and I was looking at another late-night/early morning drive back to Tulsa, but you would never know the difference from the cheerful way I prepared my breakfast that morning.

 My cheerfulness quickly turned to impatience as I alternated drumming my fingers on my desk and glancing at the clock, longing for my friend to arrive so we could start our journey. Jersey: check. Lucky scarf: check. Tickets: check. Phone: check. I ran through that list at least a hundred times between nine and ten-thirty. I was midway through another checklist when I heard the most beautiful car horn in the world. A quick kiss for the wife and hug for my son and I was on my way.

After a quick stop for some lunch at the same barbecue joint we had eaten at prior to our previous two trips to KC (which resulted in two 3-0 victories), we hit the road proper and didn’t stop once during the entire four and a half hour drive. We arrived earlier than expected, but only tarried long enough at the Cauldron tailgate to drink a beer, say some hellos, and grab a couple of t-shirts.

It may sound strange, but one of my favorite parts of travelling to LSP in the walk from my parking space, usually out in the boonies, to the Member’s Club (supporter’s section) entrance. As soon as I catch a glimpse of the light blue exterior, my feet become light as feathers and my heart begins to race. Today was no exception, and after peeling an Emerald City Supporters sticker off of a stadium map (“Animals…” I muttered to myself) I joined the growing line waiting to gain entrance.

Every time I’ve attended a match at LSP, I’ve stood with the Cauldron on the north side of the stadium. The atmosphere is always energetic and usually very positive (6/9/2011vs CHI being the lone exception). It became apparent very quickly today was going to be different. The atmosphere was teeming with anticipation, and the songs began almost immediately after we were allowed inside. We sang without much pause for almost three hours from the time we were allowed inside the stadium, through the lightning/hail delay, until the moment of silence was held for Columbus’ Kirk Urso.

By the time the match actually kicked off, there had been a subtle change in the attitude of those in my immediate area. We still sang and clapped, but there seemed to be a slight apprehension. After what felt like an eternity, the uneventful first half came to a close and we all took something of a sigh of relief. Sporting was looking good, and hadn’t made any serious errors. A win began to look more like a reality than a mere desire.

Things on the field picked up in the second half, but in the Cauldron it was largely by-the-book: sing, chant, and collectively gasp when shots were taken on goal. Restlessness and impatience began to set in as the game clock continued its journey to the full ninety minutes. Then it happened. The referee whistled Seattle for a handball in the box and awarded Sporting a penalty. My heart was in my throat the whole time Kei Kamara placed the ball and walked into position. A restless hush fell over the Cauldron. Then: GOAL!!! Kamara scored from the spot and the entire stadium erupted more loudly than I had ever heard it do before. Hugs and high-fives were exchanged, and we were on cloud nine. We were roughly ten minutes from winning the U.S. Open Cu…a cheer erupted from the green and blue corner that was home to the Seattle fans. Sporting had conceded before we had even finished celebrating. 1-1 after ninety minutes.

Extra time was one of the most nerve wracking experiences I have ever had. The chants and songs continued, but a growing contingent became rowdier and rowdier with every missed scoring opportunity. 98…99…100… The clock continued its cruel dance. Halftime passed.116…117…118… Neither side could break the deadlock. The whistle blows. Our worst nightmare becomes reality. Penalties.

Kei Kamara goes first. His shot is sav- NO IT GOES IN OFF THE KEEPER’S GLOVES! Joy combined with relief. Brad Evans scores, I’m dragged back down to earth. Roger Espinoza’s is…saved. Oh God no. Marc Burch scores. I begin to feel physically ill. Matt Besler SCORES WE’RE STILL IN IT!! Osvaldo Alonso MISSES WE’RE EVEN! Hope is beginning to return. Graham Zusi steps up and…misses. It was terrible. Awful. I’m sorely tempted to rip the Zusi jersey off my back. I may vomit if Seattle nets the next one. Christian Tiffert SAVED THANK THE LORD FOR JIMMY NIELSEN! Paulo Nagamura’s is saved. We’re doomed. It’s all ove- REKICK! GSPURNING WAS OFF HIS LINE! SCORES THE SECOND ATTEMPT! I can the light at the end of the tunnel! It’s all on Eddy Johnson now. Steps up, takes the shot and SKIES IT!!! HE MISSED!!! WE DID IT!!!

From that point on, my night became a combination of raucous singing, hugging total strangers, and shedding a few tears as I watched the team I love most, MY club, hoist the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in front of my very eyes. “We Are the Champions” sounds from the loudspeakers. Captain Jimmy Nielsen places the year 2012 on our wall of titles and it all becomes very real. My club won the Cup and I was there to witness it. By far the best night of my soccer experience so far.

My friend and I began the long drive back to Tulsa with songs in our hearts and the promise of Champion’s League Soccer next season. We’ll be back as many times as we can afford between now and then. Because I love Kansas City, Sporting Kansas City.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic story, seriously great account of a night I will never forget either. "From that point on, my night became a combination of raucous singing, hugging total strangers, and shedding a few tears as I watched the team I love most, MY club, hoist the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in front of my very eyes." This was my night as well! Thanks for sharing!