By AVI CREDITOR
Sporting Kansas City will aim to end the Seattle Sounders' three-year reign as U.S. Open Cup champions in Wednesday night's final, but exactly what Honduras Olympic hero Roger Espinoza's role will be in helping the club try to accomplish that is uncertain.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes revealed Tuesday that Espinoza picked up a clavicle injury — not a fracture — while on Olympic duty, and that his status for the Open Cup final has yet to be determined.
"Roger did have an injury coming back from London, and he was dealing with it a little bit in the Brazil (quarterfinal) game as well," Vermes said. "He's gone through a lot. Roger is a beast, though. He finds a way. He's someone that obviously is important to our team. Whether he is going to have enough for the entire game is something I'm going to have to assess."
With a crucial league match against D.C. United looming on Saturday as well, Sporting KC will have to be prudent with their use of Espinoza, who drew worldwide attention for his showing at the Olympics, especially his performance against Brazil.
In addition to potentially replacing Espinoza, Sporting KC will have to rely on their depth in other areas. Centerback Aurelien Collin is suspended for the final, right back Chance Myers has been out with a groin strain and C.J. Sapong is battling a hip flexor strain.
"We are definitely suffering right now from the injury bug, but this competition especially is one you need to use every man on your roster," Vermes said. "The difficulty from a manager perspective is being able to rotate your roster and put the right players on the field each step in this competition."
Here are a few more notes about the U.S. Open Cup final:
SELLOUT CROWD EXPECTED AT LSP
After CenturyLink Field was the setting for the last two Open Cup finals, the scene shifts to Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park, after SKC won a blind bidding process to host the final. The atmosphere in Seattle for the last two finals has been unmatched in past tournaments, but an equally raucous environment is expected at LSP, where a sellout crowd is expected to be on hand.
"What we've done, we've raised the bar," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "It's great and significant that it goes to another city, and you're looking at a stadium that is going to sell out as well."
While LSP's capacity is well shy of the Open Cup record 35,615 that showed up in Seattle for last year's final between the Sounders and Chicago Fire, that should not diminish the atmosphere that the members of the KC Cauldron, other host fans and visiting supporters are capable of creating in one of MLS' newest venues.
"Seattle has definitely raised the complexion of this tournament, for sure, the spectacle of it, the environment has been first class," Vermes said. "The spectacle tomorrow night will be one that is tremendous as well."
SOUNDERS MOVE ON FROM BIG WINS
With Seattle in fine form after a 3-1 trouncing of Caledonia AIA in the CONCACAF Champions League and a 4-0 rout of the Los Angeles Galaxy Sunday night, the club could easily head into Wednesday's battle with a sense of superiority and a mindset of expecting victory. Don't count on that happening though, as the club's focus has not wavered on the task at hand.
"We started talking about the Open Cup game about five minutes after the Galaxy game," Schmid said. "We're a group that has gone through playing a lot of games (the last three years). We've learned over that period of time managing one game to the next and not getting ahead of ourselves."
SPORTING KC READY FOR HIGH STAKES
Sporting Kansas City is a relatively young team by MLS standards and one inexperienced on the big stage. Wednesday's final will be the biggest match that this group of players will have endured, but it can look back on last year's Eastern Conference final as a reference point for how to handle the spotlight of high-stakes pressure.
"Last year when we played against Houston in the Eastern Conference final we learned a lot as a team," Vermes said. "We were a very young group. The difference is that we understand this is a final. We don't have to approach it from the perspective that we're at home. For us going into it, guys like Graham (Zusi), Teal (Bunbury), all of them realize it's an opportunity to win a championship, an opportunity to win prize money, an opportunity to get a berth into CONCACAF Champions League. All those things are understood."