This is it. The final that Red Bulls fans have been waiting for. It may not be in the most perfect circumstances, but it will certainly have to do.
The New York Red Bulls will travel to Missouri to take on Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup final. New York has not been in a final since their 2008 loss to the Columbus Crew, so this will be a huge event for both the players and fans of the club. Their opponent, however, does seem to be quite experienced when it comes to finals.
Sporting Kansas City is no stranger to the US Open Cup. The club has won in three times in their history, most recently defeating the Philadelphia Union in 2015 to win the trophy. They also won the MLS Cup the following year, beating Real Salt Lake in a shootout. In short, they have been here before.
Apart from their cup run, Kansas City has also had quite a solid year in league play. They sit in a three way tie for second place in the Western Conference having lost just six matches on the season. This is slightly undermined by their 11 draws on the season, but still shows the team can grind out results if needed.
KC are one of just two teams in the entire MLS who are unbeaten at home. This should be quite an unsettling stat for Red Bulls fans to hear, and could add to the discouraging fact that New York has not traveled to well this year. Their 4-2-8 is certainly nothing to be proud of and could be a big factor heading into this match.
Kansas City has had contributions from a variety of players in their cup run, with five different players scoring two goals. They have a threat up front in Gerso Fernandes, who also leads the team in scoring with nine goals in all competitions. There is also a threat in the midfield in US international Benny Feilhaber. Often the creator in the team, Feilhaber has tallied two assists in the Open Cup and continues to show his class match after match.
The team is rounded off by an absolute machine at the back. The 6’2” frame of Ike Opara lurks in the backline for Kansas City and feasts on aerial service. The threat he brings to set pieces is enough to trouble any team, so the Red Bulls will need to keep an eye on him in those dangerous situations.
The Red Bulls have plenty of weapons of their own. Goal scoring freak Bradley Wright-Phillips will be heavily relied upon to play the 90 minutes and beyond to ensure his team always has a threat on the field. It is still unsure whether his strike partner Daniel Royer will be fit to play, so Wright-Phillips may have to do with Alex Muyl and Sean Davis up top.
Head coach Jesse Marsch could also throw a curveball and start Gonzalo Veron up top alongside BWP. Veron’s willingness to run in behind the defense could make him the perfect partner up top to BWP, who is quite experienced at holding up play and playing quick one-two passes. Marsch could, and most likely will, also just put Veron into the match around the 65th minute to inject pace and fresh legs into his team. Either way, Veron should be a big part of Marsch’s plans heading into this match
The defensive selection could be an interesting factor in this match. Fidel Escobar and Michael Murillo have been in very solid form lately, but defender Aaron Long has been favored in big matches throughout the year. The usual starters in Kemar Lawrence and Tyler Adams should bring a much needed defensive solidity to the team as well, so regardless of who starts in the back, the Red Bulls will have plenty of cover on the field.
The Red Bulls are coming off a lackluster 0-0 draw against the Union while Kansas City beat the New England Revolution 3-1 at home over the weekend. Unlike the Red Bulls, KC started a handful of usual first team players. The shortened recovery period before a final does seem a bit odd, so it will be interesting to see how it affects the players who were included in the match just four days prior.
In all honesty, the Red Bulls need to win this final. Their season has been a bit poor and they have not been as explosive as in recent years. The club needs a boost this season, and winning their first major final should be just the boost they need to finish strong. The game will be televised on ESPN2 as well, so the big network aurora will be surrounding this match from the second the first whistle sounds.