Sporting Kansas City will host the Orlando City Lions of the minor league USL-Pro on Wednesday night for a fourth-round U.S. Open Cup matchup. The U.S. Open Cup is open to dozens of minor-league and amateur teams in addition to MLS teams. But this showdown is going to be a little bit awkward for both teams.
Sporting has loaned four of its players to Orlando, including the British-born striker Dom Dwyer. The players are making a big impact for the Lions. Dwyer, 22, leads the league with 15 goals in 12 games, and the team is in first place with a 10-1-2 record. But Dwyer and the three other Sporting players, won't be allowed to play for Orlando, because Sporting wants to maximize its chances of repeating as U.S. Open Cup champions.
The decision to keep the Sporting players idle (they can't play for Sporting in the tournament because they've already played for Orlando in tournament games) is a big deal to the USL-Pro team, because they're playing well. They even beat the Colorado Rapids (of the MLS) in the previous round of the Open Cup.
But, as Sporting's owner Robb Heineman explained on the MLS website, he wants to ensure that his team wins.
"Look, it's not optimal, probably, for those guys, but what we're about is winning championships. If those guys could impact that in a negative way - which, with the quality of players they are, they could - then they're not going to play," he told the site.
But not all MLS teams have that strategy when playing against their own players. A story in The New York Times points out that the New England Revolution found itself in the same situation. The Revolution recalled two of its players, but let another two play against them. A spokeswoman told The Times, "K.C. just doesn't want to be beaten by their own player and said he couldn't play against them. That's a step we wouldn't take."
It's easy to understand why Orlando fans (and even Sporting fans eager to see Dwyer) are getting pissy about the club's decision. But on the other hand, when Sporting won the U.S. Open Cup last year, it was pretty cool to finally have a local team hoist a trophy. Any trophy.
In related news, voting opened today for the MLS All-Star Game, which Sporting will host at Sporting Park on July 31. Six Sporting players - defender Matt Besler, forward Claudio Bieler, defender Aurelien Collin, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, midfielder Oriol Rosell and midfielder Graham Zusi - are on the ballot. You can vote here.