Was it pretty? No.
In fact, at times last night’s Sporting Kansas City playoff game against the Colorado Rapids was downright u-g-l-y. But that was all part of the plan for Sporting Sunday when they took on the defending MLS Cup champs.
“The first half was very tentative on both parts,” said KC coach Peter Vermes after the game. “I don’t think we gave much away and neither did they. In the second half, we talked about getting after it a little bit more because we thought they would push the game, being at home.”
Instead of Colorado pushing, KC stormed out of the locker room and took control right away. Teal Bunbury struck twice – once off a PK – to all but destroy Colorado’s hopes of advancing.
His first goal was set up by Julio Cesar, who has developed a knack for releasing the forwards into space behind the back line. Teal used his speed, took a big touch out in front, and coolly slotted a side-footer to the back post, beating Colorado’s rushing keeper, Matt Pickens.
Then Bunbury sealed the deal about 10 minutes later when Graham Zusi (my team MVP) played a small ball into the box that got in behind the back line. Despite a poor first touch, Teal used his strength to keep position, and Colorado defender Tyrone Marshall had to take him down to prevent the one-on-one opportunity. Marshall was sent off since he was the last defender, and Teal nonchalantly rolled the ensuing PK opposite the diving Pickens.
Colorado would muster little down a man for the remaining 20 or so minutes of the game, and KC was content to knock the ball around and hang onto those two precious away goals.
In the current MLS playoff format (that seems to change every season) away goals weigh heavily in this round, where teams play a home-and-home series with the aggregate goal total determining the winner.
This is why the result is so huge, especially so given that, to be honest, KC would’ve been happy with a tie.
“We came here knowing that a tie was okay,” said KC midfield warrior Roger Espinoza. “You try to win the game, but we want to make sure that we didn’t give them any space to score. We did very good defensively. At the end, that’s why we won.”
After KC’s 2-0 win in Denver, the Rapids come to KCK on Wednesday.
Only an epic collapse can now keep KC out of the conference finals. And because of their overall #1 seed in the east, when KC closes out Colorado, the conference final will be played at LIVESTRONG.
I hope I’m not jinxing anything, but Sporting now stand poised in perfect position to make the MLS Cup final.
Not that they’re even thinking about that right now, though.
“We have to come and play a regular game,” said Vermes of Wednesday night’s game at LIVESTRONG. “There’s no other way to look at it other than that. They’re the team to beat. We still haven’t finished anything yet.”
Bunbury was equally businesslike when asked about his team’s approach to the rematch.
“It’s not over at all. Yeah, we won this game, but Colorado’s a very good team. They’ve been in this position before. We’re going to be at home so yes, we’ll have an advantage, but we have to stay mentally prepared.”