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SOCCER

Union Omaha's run in the US Open Cup ends with loss to Sporting KC

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Union Omaha’s underdog run came to an end Wednesday at the hands of Sporting Kansas City.

The four-time Cup champions pounded the Owls with a 6-0 defeat in the Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup quarterfinals.

“It’s okay to lose to this team and you should lose this match,” coach Jay Mims said postgame. “You should get beat tonight. You should get killed tonight.”

Sporting KC advances to play USL Championship’s Sacramento Republic FC. Sacramento upset the LA Galaxy on Tuesday night and are now the only non-MLS club remaining in the competition.

The Owls had made history becoming the first USL League One to defeat an MLS squad in the Open Cup, previously defeating the Chicago Fire and Minnesota United, both on the road. But on Wednesday, it struggled. It wasn’t without support, however, with a few hundred fans — known as the Parliament — packed in the corner section dressed in volt green.

Kansas City almost took the lead just two minutes into the game. Defender Ben Sweat received a simple ball down the left offensive zone and played a trailing ball at the top of the box where Felipe Hernández shot it with his outside of the foot. Union Omaha goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu made a diving save and pushed it out for a corner.

But eight minutes later, Sporting KC would find the back of the net. SKC’s Khiry Shelton received a simple through ball into the right side of the box. He squared it across the middle on the grass for an easy finish for Daniel Salloi as SKC jumped to a 1-0 lead.

“I think when we give up the first goal, that becomes pressure on us,” Mims said. “They’re always pressure in a game.’

And it could’ve been more in the first half. In the 13th minute, Sporting forward Johnny Russell tried to finesse a shot into the upper left corner of the net, but Nuhu got a glove on it. Nuhu finished with six saves on Wednesday.

Several minutes later, Union Omaha’s JP Scearce waited too long to pass it and was stolen into space for a possible Sporting breakaway goal, but Owls midfielder Ryen Jiba deflected the ball out from behind just before the shot.

Eventually, Sporting KC added its second goal, this time off a set piece. Off a corner — which SKC had eight of in the game — Hernández crossed it right to the penalty spot where Kortne Ford headed it to the center of the goal, where it slipped under Nuhu’s left glove and into the net. After the first half, the Owls trailed 2-0.

The ball was heavily possessed by Sporting in the Owls’ own defensive half. In the first half alone, Kansas City controlled the ball for 78% of the time, shooting the ball 11 times with seven of those on frame. For Union Omaha, it managed two shots with just one on target. By the end of the game, Sporting still had 78% possession.

Mims said he didn’t think the team beat themselves, but rather SKC beat them. He emphasized that prior to the game. “We didn’t finish our chances, but that’s not beating yourself,” Mimsa said. “It’s the third away game (with) an MLS team. They beat us. And they were great.”

That’s not surprising considering the Owls had 35% possession against Chicago in April. Against Minnesota, it was 27%.

The lone shot on target in the first half proved to be the best chance Union Omaha had to take the lead and possibly shift momentum. With the game scoreless in the sixth minute, forward Kemal Malcolm shot the ball from just inside the right side of the six-yard penalty box after the cross was deflected in his direction. He tried to split the legs of KC goalkeeper John Pulskamp.

The Owls had a couple of two corner kicks of their own, but neither of them placed a real threat on Pulskamp, who finished with just the one save.

Throughout the first half, Kansas City tired the Owls by switching the field, playing long balls over the top, more often than not over the head of Owls right back Emir Alihodžić. Alihodžić was constantly getting beat by Sallói who would feed in crosses into the box.

In the second half, it got a lot worse. In the 53rd minute, Shelton played a simple ball out wide to Salloí. Salloí dribbled toward Isaac Bawa and caused him to slip. He beat another defender and then shot a low shot to the side netting and the lead quickly jumped to 3-0.

And in the 56th minute, the long ball over the top inevitably beat the Owls. Shelton controlled the ball with a defender on his back, slipping the ball past Nuhu. Nuhu got a touch on it, but it wasn’t strong enough as the ball rolled out the right post and into the net.

10 minutes later, Hernández scored his second. Marinos Tzionis crossed the ball into the box. It seemed two Owl defenders could've gotten to the ball first, but Hernández beat them to it. All was needed was a simple touch and finish to extend the lead to 5-0. And to cap it off, Kansas City scored a sixth goal in the 81st minute.

“What a special run we’ve made and it’s over,” Mims said. “Just the historic run to play three MLS teams at their place. We’re trying to do the impossible to beat three (MLS) teams away.”

Despite the defeat, the third-year club exit the competition having made history. It returns to USL League One play Saturday against South Georgia Tormenta.

“It’s historic. I just don’t think it will happen again,” Mims said postgame. “To have a team in the third-division for what we have and our resources and what we pay guys, it’s just impossible.”

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