You can’t save ’em all, but Andrew Tarbell certainly tried. The twenty-three-year-old goalkeeper was the only thing preventing Sporting Kansas City from running away with a comfortable semifinal victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the US Open Cup, making eleven crucial saves and one penalty stop.
Yet Tarbell’s heroics weren’t enough to prevent the Quakes from losing in a penalty shootout as SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia stopped Victor Bernardez’s crucial spot-kick. The defeat marked a bitter end to San Jose’s deepest US Open Cup run since 2004 when they were also knocked out by SKC in the semifinals.
The Quakes were geared towards survival in a gritty contest, employing a defensive game-plan at the home of the MLS Western Conference leaders. Solid performances by defenders Florian Jungwirth, Andres Imperiale, and Francois Affolter helped the Quakes hold a 1-1 scoreline through 120 minutes of open play, but survival alone wasn’t enough as SKC triumphed 5-4 on penalties.
Coach Chris Leitch chose the big occasion to make his most radical coaching decisions yet, dropping veteran forward Chris Wondolowski to play Danny Hoesen and Vako, who was making his first start for the team. The Georgian’s impact was swift and decisive, launching a long through ball for Hoesen just four minutes into the match. The Dutch forward cut back into the middle to strike a clinical low finish into the bottom corner, a dream start for the visitors.
SKC were unfazed, however, and continued their methodical search for a goal. Gerso’s notched the home side’s first shot in the twelfth minute but Tarbell made a comfortable save and the backup goalkeeper also stopped Jimmy Medranda’s swerving effort shortly thereafter.
The breakthrough came in the thirty-second minute when Medranda burst through the Quakes’ defense and set up Diego Rubio for a simple tap-in.
With the proceedings leveled, Tarbell’s aerial dominance was key as SKC hounded the Quakes’ penalty area. He denied multiple efforts from Rubio and Feilhaber and the visitors managed to weather the storm.
Hoesen shot on target nine minutes later during a brief period of respite and the proceedings slowly halted to a walking pace as legs grew tired and extra-time loomed ahead.
Leitch chose conservative substitutions with the introduction of Fatai Alashe for Tommy Thompson and also took off goalscorer Hoesen for Wondolowski. Yet fatigue sucked the attacking bite out of the game and penalties beckoned as the clock ticked ninety, then 120 minutes.
Tarbell and Melia both saved the first two spot-kicks of the shootout but the following nine shots all went in. The Quakes converted each four of their successful shots to the top left corner and by the time Bernardez stepped up, Melia could see what was coming.
Despite their valiant efforts, it wasn’t meant to be.