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Originally published August 8, 2012 at 9:55 PM | Page modified August 9, 2012 at 1:49 PM

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Sounders' quest for fourth U.S. Open Cup ends in penalty-kick loss

Eddie Johnson missed his final kick to seal the loss for Seattle after a controversial retake for Kansas City.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sounders FC goalkeeper Michael Gspurning threw his bottle of Gatorade in disgust. How could it end this way?

After a wicked storm delayed the match for 41 minutes, after a grueling 120 minutes of tense competition, after drama, frustration and five decisive penalty kicks from each team, history succumbed to anger, confusion and allegations of biased officiating.

The Sounders lost their bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive U.S. Open Cup championship Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park. Their consolation prize was controversy. Sporting KC beat the Sounders 3-2 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie couldn't be broken in 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time.

It was a spirited contest, as competitive as you want a title game to be. But when it was over, the Sounders were left miffed and unsatisfied.

"It didn't end like we wanted it to," defender Zach Scott said with his head down.

Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid blamed referee Ricardo Salazar for much of the bitter result.

From his opening post-match statement on, Schmid criticized Salazar's officiating. He was angry over the Sounders receiving five yellow cards to Sporting KC's zero in a match that was physical on both sides. He was angry about what he considered a phantom handball that resulted in Sporting KC's goal in the 84th minute. He was angry about Sporting KC midfielder Paulo Nagamura being awarded a do-over during penalty kicks, and about the decision to do the penalty kicks on the rowdy side of the field.

"It's difficult when you're playing against a team at home, so the crowd helps them, and then when you're playing against the referee as well, and he makes some absolutely, I thought, ridiculous calls," Schmid said. "It's very tough to win."

The Sounders were so close to history. And so disappointed by reality.

Before Wednesday, Sounders FC hadn't lost a U.S. Open Cup match in its four years of existence. They had won three straight tournaments and were primed to capture the first "four-peat" in the Cup's 99-year history. As a newbie in 2009, they started the streak with a victory over D.C. United on the road. The past two seasons, they had defended the title by winning home finals against Columbus and Chicago.

But their road to No. 4 had been fraught with difficulty. They lost out on bids for home games, and U.S. soccer's rationale didn't make sense to them. For the final, they had to come here, to this gorgeous stadium and a place that greets visitors with the banner "Welcome To Blue Hell."

An announced crowd of 18,863 — which probably makes Sounders fans say, "Oh, cute!" — came to see history of a different kind. Sporting KC followers felt it was their time to win the title. They tossed bean bags during a pre-match tailgate and talked trash. It was an intimidating place to attempt the unprecedented.

After a scoreless 83 minutes defined by physical and helter-skelter play, the closing minutes of regulation provided incredible drama. First, Scott was whistled for a handball in the box, which gave Sporting KC a penalty kick.

Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara laced the kick inside the right post for a 1-0 lead in the 84th minute.

But in the 86th minute, before the frustration of the penalty kick and the fear of defeat could set in, Scott headed in a free kick from Mauro Rosales to tie the score at 1-all. The score remained tied through two overtime periods, setting up the penalty-kick drama.

The score was 2-2 in the fifth round when Sounders FC goalkeeper Michael Gspurning denied Sporting KC midfielder Paulo Nagamura, but Salazar called for a re-kick, saying Gspurning had moved too soon.

Nagamura converted the do-over, and the Sounders' U.S. Open Cup dominance ended when forward Eddie Johnson missed high and failed to tie the match. The Sounders closed by missing three straight penalty kicks.

"Maybe people forget that I'm quick," Gspurning said. "I didn't do something bad. I was unlucky."

Asked if the re-do call was the turning point of the match, Gspurning said, "Of course, it was a turning point. If it's not a turning point, then I don't know what is."

It was a painful conclusion to a tense match. And Schmid can't help feeling that there was a conspiracy to keep the Sounders from winning the Cup again.

"There were some things I just didn't understand the whole tournament for us," Schmid said. "Our backs were against the wall this whole tournament. It was as difficult a road as it could be.

"How does a team commit an equal amount of fouls as the opponent and one team gets five yellow cards and the other team gets zero? That's unbelievable to me. The other decision — I don't know where that came from — is why we took penalty kicks at the other end of the field. I heard that wasn't the referees' decision. Apparently, Kansas City got to decide where the penalties were taken. So, what can you say? You sit there and you throw up your hands and go, 'OK.' "

Sour grapes? Maybe. But every 50/50 call seemed to go against the Sounders on this night. History wasn't meant to be. And the would-be history makers have steam rising from their heads.

U.S Open Cup Final

SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2, SEATTLE 1, SO

Scoring: KC — Kei Kamara (PK) 84'. SEA — Zach Scott (Mauro Rosales) 86'. KC- Paulo Nagamura game-winning penalty kick

Lineups: Seattle- Michael Gspurning, Zach Scott, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez, Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose (Christian Tiffert 69), Alex Caskey (Brad Evans 69), Fredy Montero (Marc Burch 106), Eddie Johnson.

Total Shots: 8 (Johnson 3); Shots On Goal: 2 (Johnson, Scott 1); Fouls: 19 (Alonso 5); Offside: 2 (Montero 2); Corner Kicks: 3 (Rosales 3); Saves: 5 (Gspurning 5).

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen, Chance Myers, Lawrence Olum, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic (Michael Harrington 100), Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi, Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong 88).

Total Shots: 18 (Kamara 6); Shots On Goal: 6 (Kamara 2); Fouls: 16 (Sinovic 4); Offside: 0; Corner Kicks: 4 (Zusi 4); Saves: 1 (Nielsen 1).

Yellow Cards: SEA — Osvaldo Alonso (caution) 4'. SEA — Mauro Rosales (caution) 57'. SEA — Patrick Ianni (caution) 73'. SEA — Zach Scott (caution) 93'. SEA — Patrick Ianni (caution) 119'. SEA — Patrick Ianni (ejection) 119'. Referee: Ricardo Salazar. Referee's Assistants: Corey Rockwell, Peter Manikowski 4th Official: Michael Kennedy. Att: 18,863

Difficult Road
Just three teams have won the Open Cup final on the road in 16 championship games — two of which have happened in the last five years. Seattle defeated D.C. United at RFK Stadium in 2009 to capture the club's first Cup title.
Year Site Att. Score
2012 Kansas City 18,863 Sporting KC. 1, Seattle 1 (KC wins 3-2 PKs)
2011 Seattle 35,615 Seattle 2, Chicago 0
2010 Seattle 31,311 Seattle 2, Columbus 1
2009 Wash. D.C. 17,329 Seattle 2, D.C. United 1

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