Sporting KC, Union Omaha will meet in U.S. Open Cup. They share some history (& fans)

In June 2022, nearly 1,000 soccer fans clad in lime green made the trek down I-29 from Omaha to watch their own professional soccer team take on the closest MLS club.

That journey will be reversed and repeated on Wednesday when Sporting KC takes on Union Omaha in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 32. The match, held at Caniglia Field on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will be just another step forward for soccer growth in the region.

The city of Omaha lies within Sporting KC’s footprint, separated by less than 200 miles. Omaha’s history as a soccer city resembles St. Louis in a lesser way, having long been propped up by the collegiate and high school soccer scene in the absence of a professional team.

Sporting has a presence in Omaha and Lincoln with the Sporting Nebraska FC academy affiliate and has long been a preferred professional soccer team by fans in Omaha.

“For years, anybody that was craving professional soccer on top of the college and high school scene, Sporting was the most accessible,” said Hunter Fangmeyer, president of the Omaha Parliament, Union Omaha’s primary supporter group.

“A lot of people who now are very passionate Union Omaha fans that put in work to help build the community ... at some point either rooted (for) or would call themselves full fans of Sporting as well.”

Those primary allegiances were tested in 2020 when Union Omaha joined USL League One, two tiers below MLS. It gave what Fangmeyer calls a “sneaky” soccer city its first professional team.

“I think Omaha was craving a representation of the city itself,” he said.

The team is a winner, having mostly played at Werner Park, home of the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. And like Sporting once did to move out of a shared minor-league baseball stadium, Union Omaha announced plans in January to build a 7,000-seat downtown soccer stadium.

Construction is scheduled to start in the fall and be completed in 2026.

As the Union Omaha team continues to grow — with a fan base that overlaps with Sporting KC — Fangmeyer and “The Parliament,” relish the opportunity to welcome people to the city and show what kind of support and environment they’ve been building. The Parliament will host a joint tailgate with members of SKC supporter groups The Cauldron and South Stand, expecting a few hundred fans to partake.

The only way these two teams can meet at the moment is through the Open Cup. Sporting has a rich history with four titles. Union Omaha is making its own history as a giant killer, too.

In all competitions, Union Omaha has not lost since last July.

In 2022, the club defeated two MLS teams, the Chicago Fire and Minnesota United, before their Cinderella story came to a screeching halt at Children’s Mercy Park, a 6-0 drubbing that included a Daniel Salloi hattrick. Union Omaha has defeated a USL Championship team (one tier above them) in back to back U.S. Open Cups.

Because of that success, Sporting manager Peter Vermes refuses to call Omaha a “lower division” team.

“As you guys know, we’ve always taken this tournament very seriously,” Vermes said on Tuesday. “These games are always incredibly difficult because it’s a big match for everyone. They’re going to play with everything they have.”

And the days of matches like this could be numbered. Or at least the chances could be limited.

In the offseason, MLS stated its intent to only enter its second teams or MLS Next Pro teams into the event, in place of the first teams. The U.S. Soccer Federation declined, saying it wouldn’t allow it before later agreeing that eight first-team MLS squads would play in it.

“We’re always one of the teams that has been fully supportive no matter what congestion, schedule, all those other things. We think that this tournament should be part of our competition,” Vermes said. “I understand that there’s a lot of other things that were going on behind the scenes, and that’s for other people to answer those questions on that side. But in regards to the competition itself, we always wanna be a part of it.”

Daniel Sperry covers soccer for The Star. He can be reached at