KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The rounds of penalty kicks have provided some of the most lasting moments in Children's Mercy Park history. An MLS championship in 2013. A U.S. Open Cup title one year earlier.
The latest round of them won't secure Sporting KC a trophy.
But it gives the team a chance.
Sporting KC outlasted San Jose in penalty kicks 1-1 (5-4) in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals Wednesday in front of a home crowd of 16,193.
It has played three shootouts inside the Kansas City, Kan., venue, which has aged only six years. It's won all three directly in front of a raucous Cauldron.
"That's the million-dollar question," Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. "I don't know, but we do believe in them."
Sporting KC will host the Open Cup championship Sept. 20, against either the New York Red Bulls or FC Cincinnati, the first second-division team to reach the semifinals of the tournament in six years. That semifinal will be played Tuesday.
After Sporting KC and San Jose were tied through five rounds of penalty kicks Wednesday, goalkeeper Tim Melia made the decisive save, stopping an attempt from Victor Bernardez. It was perhaps a predictable ending, considering Melia's success against penalty kicks this season. He has stopped three in MLS play.
But his counterpart, San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, had made 11 saves during regulation, the sole purpose for San Jose keeping the match tied.
"I told him right before the penalties I thought he had an excellent game and he kept his team in it," Melia said. "He got his team to that point. It was my job to take it away from him."
Diego Rubio, Ilie Sanchez, Jimmy Medranda, Daniel Salloi and Besler made penalty kicks for Sporting KC. After Benny Feilhaber missed the opening attempt, Melia stoned San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski to even the round. The two teams traded four conversions apiece before Besler made his attempt that proved to be the winner.
Next? The attempt for the fourth Open Cup championship in franchise history and the third in six seasons. Sporting KC also won titles in 2015, 2012 and 2004.
"In the pressure moments, when the game goes to extra time, we have almost a calm feeling about us (and) a mature approach to overtime," Besler said. "More times than not, we've been able to pull things out."
This one was well-deserved. The stats showed a story of domination, though coupled with missed opportunity. Sporting KC outshot San Jose 31-11 (including 12-3 on goal) and took 15 corner kicks compared to just one for the Earthquakes.
Still, Sporting Kansas City's lone goal was a beauty. The sequence started rather innocuously, with Sanchez chasing a ball down on the sideline. A pass to Besler. Then one to Medranda. Back to Sanchez. On it went for 18 passes, covering 53 seconds, until Rubio concluded it with a shot in the back of the net.
This is who Sporting KC had planned to be when it rejiggered its offense in the winter. Possession, transformed into goals.
"They scored (the first) goal, and the best thing for us was to continue be strong with the ball," Rubio said. "We had 80 minutes more to score in the game."
An extended run of possession followed the goal, with Sporting KC turning Tarbell into the object of target practice. It tested him 12 times in the match, including 11 times in the first hour.
That was all after Danny Hoesen opened the scoring in the fourth minute on a 20-yard shot that beat a diving Melia. That buildup was a bit more abrupt. Hoesen collected a long pass and released a shot that inched inside the lower corner.
It was not only the first deficit Sporting KC had faced in its four U.S. Open Cup tournament matches, it was also the first goal it had allowed.