Sunday, December 08, 2013
MLS Cup Dreams Come True in Sporting Blue
Sporting KC are once again MLS Cup champions after a 10 round penalty kick shoot out against Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park 1-1 (7-6).
A few weeks ago, Sporting Park hosted the coldest game in MLS history (since they started tracking), that record fell yesterday with the temperature at 20 degrees. It fell over the course of the game, especially once the sun went down. With the cold temperatures, the play on the field suffered, especially in the first half as it seemed like both of teams were trying to adjust to the cold while also getting the early nerves out. KC suffered a big blow just the 8th minute when they had to sub out midfielder, Oriol Rosell after he hurt his ankle in a challenge. The games first good opportunity came in the 25th minute for KC. Graham Zusi played a ball into the box where CJ Sapong had gotten between two Salt Lake defenders. Sapong got his header on goal, but Nick Rimando got down well and pushed the shot away for a corner kick. RSL really should have grabbed the lead a few minutes later. Off a long ball into the box, Jimmy Nielsen came out to attempt to punch it clear but did not get enough on it. The ball fell to Robbie Findley at the back post for RSL. Unlike when the teams' first met and Findley put away a similar opportunity. This one he put right into the near post from a tough angle and the ball bounced into the grateful arms of Nielsen. In stoppage time in the first half KC had another good opportunity. A free kick by Zusi was only partially cleared to Matt Besler. Besler played a ball back over the top to Dom Dwyer, who chested the ball down but by the time he turned to shoot, Rimando had closed down and the shot was blocked.
Early in the second half, Sporting had another great opportunity to take the lead. Another Zusi free kick was lofted into the box, it landed at the feet of Sapong. His first touch carried him past his defender, but with space to shoot he fired his shot over the bar. RSL though started to get more of the play and pressure the ball further up the field. The pressure paid off as they scored in the 52nd. An errant pass by KC fell to Kyle Beckerman who played a no look pass over the top to Alvaro Saborio. Saborio brought it down with his chest/arm, and fired a shot that beat Nielsen to the near post giving RSL the lead. As KC pushed numbers forward trying to find an equalizer, Salt Lake looked to hit on the counter. In the 62nd they almost got a second. after Findley raced forward at KC's defense. He then laid the ball back and it went to Beckerman. The US national teamer fired a shot that took a slit deflection and bounced past Nielsen but ended up hitting the post and bouncing back into play. Luis Gil collected the rebound and squared the ball towards Saborio, but Gil was offside when Beckerman's shot was taken. KC's pressure continued but it was RSL that continued to get the better chances and in the 73rd the post again came to KC's rescue. Again it was findley leading the break. This time he squared the ball into the middle for Javier Morales. Morales turned and tried to curl a shot towards the net. Nielsen acted like it was going wide of the goal but it hit the post. The ball bounced back into play and curled around the opposite post for a goal kick. Just an incredibly odd bounce of the ball. Shortly after KC finally got their pressure to pay off. Off a corner kick, KC equalized. Zusi's corner found Aurelien Collin who out jumped Chris Schuler and headed the ball past Rimando and into the net. KC continued to pressure looking for a winner and almost got caught on the counter again. With numbers pushed forward for a corner, Salt Lake sprung a break with Ned Grabavoy. The midfielder raced into KC's half of the field with only Nielsen in front of him. Seth Sinovic raced back, recovering and knocking the ball away for a corner, a fantastic recovery from KC's left back.
The first period of extra time started out quickly. Findley thought he'd given RSL an early lead, but was ruled out for being offside. Shortly after at the other end of the field, KC had a penalty shout as Sapong went out after a challenge from Schuler. No foul was called and replays showed that it was a bit of embellishment from Sapong. In the 93rd KC had their best chance of extra time. A long throw from Matt Besler was headed by Schuler into the path of Zusi who one timed a volley on goal but Rimando did very well tipping the ball over the bar. KC continued to get the better of the play in extra time and in the 102nd had another good opportunity. A long ball by Paulo Nagamura was played into the box for Claudio Bieler. Bieler beat Nat Borchers to the ball and headed it into the path of Sapong who shot with Schuler right on his back but his shot went just over the bar. Salt Lake again thought they had the lead in extra time in the 105th minute. Sporting gave the ball away in their end of the field to Ned Grabavoy. He played the ball wide to Findley who crossed the ball to Saborio. The Costa Rican headed the ball in, but was ruled offside. The second period of extra time saw both teams continue to pressure, but neither was able to find a goal and again a cup final with KC was to be decided from the spot.
Sporting shot first and Bieler stepped up and sent Rimando the wrong way. Saborio came up for RSL's first attempt. He couldn't level things though, putting his effort over the bar. Up second for KC was Nagamura. He too sent Rimando the wrong way and KC was up again. Grabavoy was Salt Lake's second shooter. He fired a shot to Nielsen's right, but the Dane dove down and made the save. After two rounds, KC was up 2-0 and looked good for the cup. Besler stepped up for KC's third PK. He shot to Rimando's left, but the Salt Lake keeper made the save. Beckerman gave Salt Lake a life line with their third attempt, cutting the lead to 2-1. Benny Feilhaber took KC's fourth attempt, going right up the middle, beating Rimando with pace to make it 3-1. Substitute Joao Plata took Salt Lake's fourth, needing to make it to keep their hopes alive, he put his shot high in to the net to make it 3-2. Zusi stepped up to take KC's fifth PK, a goal would win it. Zusi's effort though hit the top of the cross bar and went over. Morales stepped up as RSL's fifth taker, looking to force sudden death PKs. Morales went with the stutter step, sending Nielsen the wrong way and leveling the PKs at 3-3.
Into sudden death PKS we went. Sinovic stepped up first for KC, sending Rimando the wrong way again making it 4-3. Schuler took RSL's sixth attempt, sending it right down the middle as Nielsen dove left. Sapong stepped up for the seventh round, again getting Rimando to lean the wrong way as he went to Rimando's right making it 5-4. Tony Beltran stepped up for RSL. Nielsen guessed right going to his right, but Beltran put the PK off the post and in to level things at 5-5. Lawrence Olum, who subbed on in place of the injured Rosell went eighth. Olum though put his effort wide of the net. Sebastian Velasquez stepped up as the eighth shooter for RSL with the chance to win it. Velasquez though telegraphed where he was going, looking to Nielsen's right, looking down at the ball and again looking up to Nielsen's right. The Dane made the easy save, keeping the scores level at 5-5. Chance Myers stepped up with the ninth attempt for KC going to Rimando's left as he dove the opposite direction making it 6-5. Borchers went next for RSL again going up the middle, but this time Nielsen almost got his leg on it. With the tenth attempt, Collin stepped up for KC. Rimando guessed right going to his left, but Collin's PK was too well placed, going into the side netting to make it 7-6. The tenth shooter for RSL was Lovel Palmer. Palmer put his effort into the cross bar and it bounced back into play giving the title to Kansas City.
A final that may have lacked a bit when it came to style of play, certainly lived up to a final when it came to drama and fight.
Wizards Man of the Match - Aurelien Collin/Jimmy Nielsen - Collin and Nielsen split the award. Collin for the game tying goal and for burying a perfect shot for the winning PK. Nielsen, while he didn't have a great game, came up huge in the PK shootout, saving two, the big one being on Velasquez in sudden death.
Honorable mention - Seth Sinovic
Player Ratings - Nielsen 7, Sinovic 7, Collin 8, Besler 6, Myers 6, Rosell NR, Nagamura 6, Feilhaber 5, Zusi 5, Dwyer 5, Sapong 5. Subs Olum 6, Bieler 6.