Hey Kansas City, your team just advanced to the conference finals. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think KC has had a winner like this in, what, 10-plus years?
Bask in it. It’s been a while since we’ve had a true contender.
But last night, in the miserable cold and rain, KC soccer fans showed why they’re among the best in the MLS.
They braved the elements and filled sold-out LIVESTRONG Sporting Park with the song and energy to help propel Sporting Kansas City‘s boys in blue into the Eastern Conference finals. The design of the stadium – in which every seat is covered – provided some shelter from the storm, and the gutty performance of the team did the rest.
Sporting beat the Colorado Rapids a few days ago in Denver 2-0, and in the MLS the aggregate goal winner from the home and home series wins. So KC certainly didn’t need to come out in an all-out attack like they normally do. Many teams would have been content to sit back, bunker down men in the back, and try to squeak out a draw or 1-0 loss and just advance (See Real Salt Lake, who played defensively and got shelled all game by Seattle last night, only to escape luckily with the 3-2 aggregate victory).
But that’s not SKC coach Peter Vermes, and not Sporting KC, thankfully.
We’ve seen it so many times: how when a team plays conservatively, going away from what they normally do, bad things often happen.
As one former Kansas Citian famously said, "You play to win the game."
And that’s precisely what KC did, coming out aggressive, physical, and pressing high up the field just like always.
"We talked about how (Colorado) felt that we played too hard in the last game," said Vermes of some Rapids players whining following the previous match. "I am not sure what the thought process was there, but I am not going to apologize for us having a big, strong, fast, athletic team. That is who we are and if teams can’t handle it, they can’t handle it."
If Kansas City was going down, it was not going to be with a whimper. Rather a blaze of glory.
When the 90th minute finally arrived, the scoreboard showed the aggregate score of KC 4, Colorado 0. And the Cauldron errupted. After struggling mightily through the Curt Onalfo dark ages, a minor league baseball stadium, the players coming and going, these most loyal fans’ dedication and beer drinking finally paid off.
"Go back to Colorado… Go back to Colorado," they yelled at the visitors.
Get the hell out of our house.
KC notched both goals off set pieces delivered precisely from the boot of Graham Zusi. The first was a long ball sent toward the center of the goal that met a persistent Aurelien Collin. Collin got to the ball first, just nicking it enough to slip it past Colorado keeper Matt Pickens. Pickens mis-timed his effort and punched Collin in the back of the head, leaving the Frenchman sprawled on the turf as his effort bounced into the back of the net.
The second goal was similar, though this time rookie standout CJ Sapong got on the end of the Zusi bender with a lashing header that Pickens could only dream about getting a hand on.
With the aggregate at 4-0 Colorado was dead. They knew it, Sporting knew it, everyone knew it. This baby was in the books and KC could relax, take their foot off the gas, and cruise for the last 20 minutes.
But they didn’t cruise. They pressed on, scrapped harder and continued to attack.
"Just get one more goal," I thought to myself. "Just twist that dagger a little further into Colorado’s black, black heart."
After the game, there was pretty much universal praise for Zusi from his teammates, including White Puma Jimmy Nielsen.
"Every team dreams of having a player who can serve set pieces like Zusi can," said Nielsen. "He’s in the same class as David Beckham and Brad Davis. Those type of players can serve the ball however you want it and that’s good to have on your team. That’s huge."
So there’s that. Which is nice, but now what?
On Sunday (game time yet to be determined) KC will host the winner of the Houston-Philly series, which concludes tonight. The winner goes to LA to fight for the championship in the MLS Cup. And the weather is supposed to beautiful, not that it matters.
LIVESTRONG will be packed, loud, raucous, and energized as always. If you can still scrape up a ticket, I suggest you do so right now.
It’s a special, special time Kansas City, enjoy.
Photos courtesy of Alex Jinks at creativephotoskc.com.