Donnelly: Moment Too Big For Sporting, Houston Advances to Final With 2-0 Win

Sporting Kansas City wanted so badly to summon their best against the visiting Houston Dynamo

But in the end, it might have been the anticipation, the yearning, the added bit of pressure, that undid Sporting and ended their season in front of a standing room LIVESTRONG crowd.

The atmosphere was second to none as both teams warmed up, with the electricity of playoffs and the possibility of the MLS Cup buzzing around all corners of the stadium.  The late-fall sun cracked its way onto the playing surface, and the cool fall air filled with song, including choruses from the healthy dose of Houston fans that made the trip.

But once the whistle blew, Sporting seemed out of sync in a way I haven’t seen for months. Prior to Sunday’s game, the boys in blue have had purpose in their attack, cohesion in their defense, and an aggressive mentality. 

But on Sunday, the gravity of the moment seemed to rattle coach Peter Vermes’ young squad.

“I think in the first half we got too much into this run-and-gun game,” Vermes said after the loss.  “We wanted to play a little bit more disciplined in our game and recognize the moments when we could go and counter and recognize the moments when we needed to build the game up a little bit and keep possession. I thought we were just too direct in the first half.”

Kei Kamara reverted back to his mid-season form where he at times looked disinterested or exhausted.  Teal Bunbury was like a ghost on the field.  Even Graham Zusi, who has been so steady in the middle as this team’s field general, made several sloppy mistakes, giving away balls in dangerous situations and struggling a bit with his close control.

Houston finally struck first in the second half off a set piece that saw Jimmy Nielsen stop the initial header, only to have an opportunistic Dynamo player tap in the rebound.

Going down 1-0 only magnified Sporting’s panic, as the squad reverted to sending long balls into the box and hoping for a lucky break.

“When we went a goal down, there was a moment when we were just trying to lump it in the box because we wanted to get the goal back,” said Sporting forward Kei Kamara.  “But, then we tried to calm ourselves down and play a little bit, but it didn’t click.  It was one of those days.”

Instead of continuing to execute their game plan and playing within the system that got them to this point, KC looked flustered and that lucky break never came.

“We didn’t really play the way we wanted,” said Nielsen.  “We were pumping balls up in the air the whole time.  We didn’t play the ball on the ground like we usually do.  At halftime we talked about it but then they came back and scored.  Today we weren’t good enough to create those chances and score.”

Houston cemented the win with a breakaway goal towards the end of the second half, going up 2-0 on the floundering home side, and signaling to the 20,000 inside LIVESTRONG that the magical ride of the 2011 season was at end.

Afterwards, longtime Wizard/Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud summed up the feeling inside KC’s glum locker room. 

“Physically we didn’t leave anything out.  We left everything on the field.  We played with our hearts.  It’s just soccer.  Sometimes the ball isn’t going to going to go in for you.”

So while KC’s uncharacteristically disappointing performance was a bitter pill, there is plenty of hope going forward.

“This team has a bright future,” Nielsen assured.  “There is a lot of talent in this team.  I think the next couple of the years will be very good years for Sporting Kansas City.  Hopefully we can keep this squad together.  I want to be here and be a part of the future.”

Vermes, in his typical fashion, was already looking ahead, ready to move on and do what the club needs to prevent a let-down next season.

“We have a lot of work to do in the off-season,” said Vermes.  “It starts right away. We have the expansion draft.  We have a few contracts here and there, we’ve got new players to add, maybe some players to go.  It’s all those decisions that you have to make at the end of the year.”

Photographs by Alex Jinks, creativephotoskc.com

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15 Responses to Donnelly: Moment Too Big For Sporting, Houston Advances to Final With 2-0 Win

  1. harley says:

    SPORTING KC CONGRATS
    INcredible stadium…great fans…great team…great marketing…just an all around great thing for the team/players/owners
    and fans…and especially for the city.
    Good luck in 2012!

  2. smartman says:

    Badabadabadab That’s All Folks!
    Either I got lucky or my Sporting curse worked. Change the damn name! Sporting-Sporting-Sporting. How fucking stupid. Change the name or you will NEVER win an MLS cup.

    If KC sports were barbeque Sporting would be in babeque-linary parlance THE McRIB. Not always available. Worshipped by some that don’t know any better, but viewed by the majority as something that’s not so good despite all the sauce and glitzy advertising.

    Gonna be a tougher road to hoe next season on a variety of fronts. We’ll see if this organization is really built for the long haul. Heed my warning money guys. New GM and a new coach are manditory or you will pay a very high price.

  3. Matt says:

    I’d bet money…
    that Vermes still has his job going into next season. (Glazer will handicap in his next column). He did a great job turning the season around and the ownership group loves him. And it’s not just OnGoal that thinks he did fantastic – Vermes is up for MLS coach of the year.

  4. % says:

    Matt
    Thanks for your coverage this year. It’s been quite good and really the only consistent, knowledgeable coverage that any MLS team has that I’ve seen.

    I was shocked that SKC lost yesterday. Houston played quite well on defense, but Teal looked like he didn’t care after the 25th minute when SKC was moving the ball forward but not hitting any crosses. Kei looked tired and disinterested and Sapong just looked lost. I had a feeling that SKC’s defensive four were in for a tough day when Houston had three offsides calls in the early minutes. They ended up with several breakways or near breakaways and the score could have easily been 4-0.

    The refereeing was not really an issue. It was a bit inconsistent in that they let a lot of potential calls slide, but then blew the whistle on some ticky-tack shit. But I thought it was pretty even and that a lot of calls that angered SKC fans were flops, made evident on replay.

    Speaking of SKC fans, shame on some members of the Cauldron who have concluded that throwing beer bottles and cups is an acceptable practice. Twice on national television (first was the home opener against Chicago) have beer and other projectiles soared from the Cauldron from fans who don’t have an appreciation for the rules that govern civilized society. If your boss was unhappy with the work you did, would it be OK for him to enter the cubicle and chuck a cold one on you?

    SKC should have a good team next year, but it will probably be one that will look somewhat different. If Vermes can only protect 11 players from the Montreal expansion draft, you’re looking at a big name or two that could be gone. If I’m a betting man, Arnaud, Jeferson and Kamara could be guys left for the pickin’s by the new club.

  5. legendaryhog says:

    heed your warning? are you fucking kidding?
    The team name is why Sporting lost now? You are a fucking moron. And what is going to be tougher next year? They had a fucking half-season road trip to start out this year, went from last place to first place by the end of the year, and into the division finals. How, you fucking idiot, is the schedule going to get harder than that?

    Vermes and the

  6. Matt says:

    Thanks for reading…
    …%, and everyone else who has taken a gander. But fear not, this will not be the last soccer coverage here on KCC until the next MLS season. For example, as you mentioned, there’s the draft coming up where SKC will likely lose a player who contributed a lot to this season. Who will it be is the interesting question.

    Though Jeferson contributed little, I wouldn’t be surpirsed if KC protects him, even though it won’t be popular with the fanbase. He was thrown in the fire with little time to mesh with his team and I think he has a good amount of upside given a whole season.

    Kei would be tough to lose, and he’s a fan favorite, but he’s so streaky.

    Davy should not be protected, but I know Vermes loves his grit and he’s been around forever.

    Should be interesting.

    Oh and smartman, you called it, the part about all the McRib’s sauce and the glitzy advertising being just like a soccer team. Spot on.

  7. smartman says:

    @legendaryhog
    Heineman has only proven one thing, he can spend other peoples money. He is a soccer groupie not the MLS version of Theo Epstein. Team needs to go in another direction and not maintain the Vermes status quo. NO REASON Vermes should have not had this team FIRED UP to beat Houston. Yesterday was his final exam. HE FAILED.

    The honeymoon is over. 2012 is a new year. Expansion draft will have an impact as was mentioned above. Cliff and Neal will also have a more discerning eye on expenditures in 2012. They paid for a BIG WEDDING RECEPTION in 2011. The term ROI will come into play. They are at their core think smarter businessmen. They are not going to spend, spend, spend ad infinitum without out seeing results on the field and in the bank. Just wait and see Mister Hog. Not gonna kill myself. If I do who’s gonna bang your lady 3 times a week?

  8. harley says:

    sorry everyone..smartman is an f*cking idiot
    the worst comments ever smartman. If you’re so smart and know everything then prove it by not dishing out
    b.s. then insulting the commenter. You can have a difering opinion…and thats fine here…but to dig into someone
    pesonally like you always do is low low class. You need to cut this out…or the kcc possee will be on your
    rear too.
    we know everything!
    And despite your rude comments congrats go to the entire organization for one increidble year.
    I am not a soccer fan…not my style but who can not give huge accolades to the great job they did
    in bringing this team to some incredible achievements. I heard this stadium was selling out…how many
    teams can do that…and they created a huge buzz around the team. Smartman ain’t so smart..in fact he’s
    an idiot. Totally uncalled for. Why do you have this huge negative chip on your shoulder about everyone
    and anything. You need an attitude adjustment.

  9. Rick says:

    MATT EXPLAIN???
    Matt this as a casual fan is what I find irritating about soccer. The lack of logic. So explain to me so i can understand. Kansas City played Colorado twice to advance in the playoffs. Once in Colorado and once home. They beat them both times by a 2-0 score.

    However we then play Houston once at home and they beat us and we’re done.

    Explain that??? I’m sure its going to have some crazy formula involving points etc.

    Thanks Rick

  10. Matt says:

    Yeah, the MLS playoff format is strange
    The wild card teams all play 1 game to advance and then the next round is a home and home format and then the conference final round is 1 game and the final is 1 game. The format changes nearly every year and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s different next year is well.

    And Rick, you’re not alone, the playoff format is difficult to comprehend even for soccer fans.

  11. Rick says:

    THANKS MATT
    Now the next question which I’ll have to blast to Brandon or another sports site. The NFL says it is worried about players health. But yet the Chargers after this Thursday game will have played 3 games in 10 days. CRAZY!!!!

    Thanks again Matt. Also will you cover the Comets at all?

  12. Hearne Christopher says:

    Good question, Matt?

  13. legendaryhog says:

    shart-man…you make it so easy
    Really

  14. Mysterious J says:

    Is there a way to filter out “smartman”
    The guy is an idiot in general, on this topic in particular.

  15. harley says:

    great team…great fans…great stadium…great ownership
    no more needs to be said. End of story! I am not a soccer fan but what person could not know that this has been
    a stellar year for the entire organization and what they have done for this area. Carry on guys. there wil always
    be low lifes who try to tear you down.

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