HOW IT PLAYED OUT
There's not a team in professional sports, let alone Major League Soccer, that's not interested in winning hardware. It's in each club's best interest to perform well and come away with something tangible to show for it. But in a league where abstract rules, roster turnover and apathetic ownership often compound and confound, only a handful of teams at best can claim that desire is not just lip service.
Sporting Kansas City left no doubt on Wednesday night that it's one of those clubs, as if it was ever really in question.
In front of the third-largest crowd in its history, Sporting KC captured its fourth piece of hardware in six seasons in a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls that, for the first time during that span, did not require penalty kicks to determine a winner. It marked the club's third U.S. Open Cup title during that span and fourth overall.
"The main reason I signed that contract in 2014 was to win championships. I didn't just say that, I meant it," Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said after the game. "I didn't just sign here because it's my hometown and I have family here. Those are all separate reasons. The main reason was to win championships, and that's something I believed in at the time.
"This is a club that consistently competes for them."
Daniel Salloi secured the decision, making an instinctual run midway through the second half to split the Red Bulls centerbacks before calmly touching the ball past goalkeeper Ryan Meara. It came after Latif Blessing headed in the opener 25 minutes in.
Bradley Wright-Phillips wouldn't let the title come easy, though, scoring in front of goal seconds into second-half stoppage time. But it wasn't enough to take back a trophy that had Sporting KC's hands firmly attached to it by then.
The match opened at a frantic pace but lacked a first blow until Latif Blessing's opener in the 25th minute. His nod was the ninth touch in an eight-pass sequence stretching nearly 90 yards, highlighted by Zusi's pin-point cross over a stalled Michael Murillo.
By the time the Red Bulls defender could turn around, 5-foot-3 Blessing was already coming down to a roar at or above those during MLS Cup 2013.
The Red Bulls were not without their moments, but neither was Sporting KC in bagging a second or third. The home teamed finished the half with four shots on target as the two teams combined for 13 total shots.
However, none was bigger than Sporting KC's fifth.
As Sporting KC attempted to slow the pace of the match, Salloi spotted a lull in the Red Bulls defense. He took off into space, and at the same time, Benny Feilhaber spotted it, lifting his head to deliver the ball that would prove to be the game-winner.
"I feel like they fell asleep a little bit on that play for whatever reason," Feilhaber said. "Maybe they weren't expecting us to try and hit them quickly. Those kind of things happen in soccer — in that moment I saw the space and thought we could exploit it."
It may not have ended in front of the Cauldron, but it did end to the same roar that it did in 2012 and 2013. That of a championship roar.
MAN OF THE MATCH
He wasn't perfect in a Sporting KC boxscore that was far from perfect*, but Feilhaber was instrumental on both sides of the ball at times on Wednesday. His ball to Salloi won't catch much attention, and wasn't all that difficult to make, but it was his ability to spot the run during a stretch of the game where Sporting KC was looking to work sideline to sideline with passes toward their own net aiding in that goal.
*65 percent passing accuracy and 36 percent possession
Feilhaber made five recoveries and two clearances just outside the penalty area. He and the rest of the midfield also played a major role in not letting things get out of hand in the first 15 or so minutes of the second half. Funny, now, to think Feilhaber was a plane ride away from leaving this club altogether.
TITLES ON TITLES
"I tell this to people all the time. Kansas City is an extremely intelligent crowd," Besler said. "They can sense and feel how the game is being played out. We're very lucky to be playing in front of crowds like that.
"They understand even like when they need to get on the referee and put some pressure on him. That's a real thing, too. If a referee is making difficult decisions and the crowd is booing and being loud, that puts pressure on him. I'm not saying that happened a lot tonight, but just in general. Everybody's human.
"When we're struggling with possession, they get even louder and put pressure on the other team. It's just these little things. One time I did notice tonight, it was about five minutes left and I could hear them. Everybody was looking around and that really gave us the boost to finish things."
GIF OF THE MATCH
Home against the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday at 1 p.m.