That seat was said to be Lance‘s special seat, and was reserved for cancer survivors in attendance that had been associated with the Livestrong Foundation.
Nope, still there.
This final game of the regular season against the lowly Philadelphia Union was a statement game for Sporting Kansas City. Sporting didn’t technically need it since they had already clinched a playoff berth, but a win or draw for KC would lock up the top spot in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing home field at least until the final. But a loss could possibly do the same, depending on other results later this week.
More importantly though, was the confidence and momentum KC could generate by getting a result heading into post season play. Which is exactly what they did with a 2-1 victory with the winner coming in the waning moments of the match.
On this night, no one was more confident than KC striker Kei Kamara, who caused nightmares for the Union defense.
He was unstoppable on the ball, running at the defense and putting teammates in dangerous positions, just as he has all season long. And he assisted on both goals with well weighted through balls that allowed relatively routine finishes.
“I honestly think he is one of the hardest players in the league to stop,” remarked Jacob Peterson, who was on the end of the first Kei assist. “Not only is he an athlete and everybody knows that, but his feet are unbelievable too. He’s a very skillful player and he is aggressive and he runs at guys, I don’t think there is anybody in this League who can stop him.”
The visitors didn’t possess the ball anywhere near the KC box, let alone create any chances in the first half, other than one kind of fluky break away in the 35th minute that wasn’t put on goal.
KC nearly struck again in first half stoppage time when recently announced team co-MVP Graham Zusi (the other is White Puma Jimmy Nielsen, duh) found himself unmarked around the penalty spot and received a slip from CJ Sapong. Zusi fired a hard, low, right footer that was blocked right back to him by Philly keeper, Zac MacMath. He struck the rebound lefty, but that was again stopped by MacMath with a really nice sprawling save.
In the second half, things got sloppy for KC. Early on, some reckless defending by Seth Sinovic forced three or four KC defenders to lunge for the ball before taking Union striker Danny Cruz down in the box for an obvious penalty.
Puma made a great initial save, but couldn’t get to the rebound in time. Antoine Hoppenot followed the deflection and buried the point blank shot underneath Nielsen to knot the score at 1-1.
Minutes later Philly hit the post on a through ball header, and KC looked to be unraveling. Then the visitors hit the post again a minute later.
Philly was playing for nothing other than pride and KC had a dogfight on their hands.
“You’re playing against a team that had absolutely nothing to play for,” said Nielsen afterwards. “In my opinion, they came in with a little “street smart” attitude. A little dirty here and there…”
Finally, in the 83rd minute SKC took out the Union down for good. Kei made a physical charging run up the middle, bursting through three Philadelphia players before sliding a ball perfectly into the path of Sapong, who calmly slotted home what would be the nail in the division coffin and eventual game-winner.
The win puts KC at 63 points for the season, a team record. It also means that if San Jose (the only team with more points than KC) loses in the playoffs, KC could host the MLS Cup Final.
But KC boss Peter Vermes isn’t looking that far ahead just yet, despite his growing comfort level with his young squad.
“For everybody, it’s a clean slate,” said Vermes. “It’s not going to be easy that’s for sure. But at the same time, I think we’re well-seasoned for playing the playoffs. If you look at our last eight games, they’ve all been real battles. It’s not like a change of game going into the playoffs. It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a war. And I think right now we’re ready for it.”