Donnelly: Too Little Too Late, Sporting Eliminated by Houston

LIVESTRONG was juiced last night with brand new intro videos and a booming bass that worked the sellout crowd into a nervous frenzy.









Indeed, it was Sporting Kansas City on the back foot, needing to hold the Houston Dynamo scoreless, and score at least 2 goals themselves just to send the game into overtime.  That with several relative nubes getting the start due to the injuries of Julio Cesar and Paulo Nagamura.  As the squads lined up, a low roar built up slowly and continued for a good while until the initial whistle blew.

Early on, KC predictably relied on the long crosses.  Which as usual didn’t yield a dangerous chance until, well, it never really did.

Man, Houston knows how to bunker. Once the Dynamo went up 2-0 in the previous game at their place, it was a surefire bet that they’d be content to sit back and wait out the clock, which they did to perfection.  

Houston forward Cam Weaver actually came out and admitted as much, which is a bit rare – and something that most other Dynamo coaches and players denied.

“We talked about coming here and trying to play a 0-0 game- but credit to Sporting, they put us under a lot of pressure and we had to defend most of the game,” Weaver said.

The first decent chance for KC came around the 20th minute when a little slip ended up on Peterson Joseph‘s boot, but he sent it straight at Houston keeper Tally Hall.

Moments later Uri Rosell made a nice play, threading a ball through to Kei Kamara who found Graham Zusi in the box.  But Zusi’s effort was poor, and he sent it sailing into The Cauldron.

Then a couple minutes later, Kei’s shot was deflected point blank by a Houston defender after a couple nice linkups from Zusi and Chance Myers.

But time was wasting.  I looked up and 32 minutes had passed and still no score.

And Sporting was bogging down, spending most of its time and effort complaining to the referee, who wasn’t doing that bad of a job actually.  The ref was on top of things, refusing to blow the whistle on plays that looked like a player was just looking for a call, even a little bit.

Hey, the refs are horrible, that’s a given.

But this team spends far much too much time campaigning for calls.  Play the damn game, stop squawking at the refs and – get this – you’ll actually get more of the foul calls you deserve.  Trust me.

At the half, KC had 73% of the possession, but just one more shot on goal than Houston.  How many had Houston tallied, you ask?  Just one.

That’s the definition of false hustle – ineffective possession that is predictable and not dangerous in any way.  But KC boss Peter Vermes had an entirely different- and surprising – take.

“What can I say, I think it was, in the three years that I’ve been coaching the team,the best performance we had in 90 minutes,” Vermes said.  “We absolutely dominated the game. Guys played with incredible, incredible concentration and organization. I thought Uri (Rosell) and (Peterson) Joseph were outstanding. The way they moved the ball from side to side, I though they were just tremendous, I thought it was just a complete game, other than getting a second goal…”

Where do I even begin?

First off, that was not the best performance in the last three years.

Not even close. It just wasn’t.  But let’s play along, assuming it was. What message does that send to the rest of the team, when two guys that have barely played (Uri and PJ) come in for the biggest game of the season, and that ends up being the best game in 3 years?

What does that say about Vermes’ coaching decisions all season long?

Second, Rosell and Joseph were able to knock the ball back and forth so easily because Houston sat all their guys in deep.  The Dynamo WANTED Sporting to knock the ball back and forth in the back and midfield, so long as that meant there were no penetrating passes or runs.  The visitors dictated the flow of the game and relegated possession on purpose.

And it worked.

As the second half minutes piled up, the tension grew.  Just one goal from Sporting is all that was needed to turn this nightmare into a lucid dream, the kind where you can see energy bouncing off of walls and if you run fast enough your feet lift off the ground.

Just one goal to give hope to the singers and chanters and drum beaters.

One goal and we’ll tear this place down.

And then… Kei holding up the middle, Zusi with a cross, Sinovic?.. yes, Seth Sinovic with the diving header far bar and into the back of the net, breathing life into these boys in blue.

The Cauldron erupted in confetti and drums.

With renewed adrenaline, KC almost notched the equalizer a few moments later when Sapong beat Tally Hall to a low cross but put the one timer over the bar.

The last 20 minutes was a frenetic flurry for Sporting.  They sent in cross after cross, cracked a few longer shots, and possessed the ball in the final third relentlessly.

But the equalizing goal never came.  And Sporting Kansas City’s season ended at the hands of Houston again.

“I think we showed we’re the better team,” commented Sapong afterwards.  “But things happen that you can’t explain.”

No, not really.


All photos by Alex Jinks:




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8 Responses to Donnelly: Too Little Too Late, Sporting Eliminated by Houston

  1. Rick Nichols says:

    In a letter I sent to the Sporting KC office just before the team’s friendly match against Montpellier, I correctly suggested that the road to the MLS Cup would go through Houston at some point. Unfortunately, the lads in blue were not up to the challenge again this year, so the Dynamo move on while the Kansas City faithful can only dream of what might have been. I think we would’ve seen a different outcome last night if Kamara had been able to head that ball into the back of the net just several minutes into the game instead of sending it far to the left of the left post. The finishing just wasn’t there except for Sinovic’s diving header, a great effort on his part, and it hasn’t been there much of the season. I said on Sunday/Monday that Houston’s second goal was a backbreaker and that proved to be true. Sporting has struggled to get two goals a game throughout the season, let alone the three that would’ve given them the edge in aggregate coupled with a clean sheet by the keeper. Nevertheless, the lads had a great season that included the U.S. Open Cup title, so there is sound reason for optimism with respect to the 2013 season. Just get a guy who has a nose for the back of the net and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.

  2. George Wilson says:

    Last year this was a team that was overly reliant on set pieces and crosses for its goals. Then we lost Omar Bravo. We never replaced his scoring, and more importantly, his intelligent runs off the ball. Instead we brought in Bobby Convey who rarely scores and whose strength is – you guessed it – crosses. All year we were one additional real finisher and maybe one extra creative midfielder from being the best team in the league. Yet our big mid season acquisition was a holding midfielder who played sparingly.

    This ownership gets a lot of kudos for what they have done with the club. And deservedly so. But I think someone somewhere should also point out that with a real chance to win a championship, sellout crowds on a regular basis, and the third lowest payroll in the league they kept their hands on their wallets rather than spend the money on the player or two who would have filled the obvious holes in our offense and likely would have put us over the top.

    • the dude says:

      As many have said in this season the last missing piece of the puzzle that Sporting has not aqcuired yet is a bona fide closer. Everyone knows it, I guess Vermes did not want to come right out and say it but there it is. We need a legitimate open field threat that can stuff a goal beyond they key and keep defenses honest.
      Houston knew they could play bunker defense and hackathon 2012 in the midfield to slow and frustrate the high speed offense because they knew we did not have a golden boot that can hammer a goal beyond the penalty box.

  3. % says:

    Mr. Donnely, thank you for the great coverage this season. And thanks for correctly pointing out that SKC players have succumbed to whining to the refs too often this season, many times during the run of place. Vermes really needs to get his team to focus, tell them that whining to the ref is his job. Their job is to play.

    The result was not at all surprising. SKC’s offense is terribly unimaginative, and Houston was really in a perfect position to just run out the clock with a 2-0 advantage. That Will Bruin goal in Houston on Sunday was a killer, one of the most back-breaking goals scored against Kansas City in franchise history. With a 1-0 deficit, Houston could not have afforded to play the way they did and things would have opened up a bit for SKC. 2-0 was just too tough.

    A lot of folks saying Kansas City needs to go after a clinical goal scorer in the offseason. It’s a nice idea, but those types of players are going to cost a lot of money. And SKC, surprisingly, does not keep a hefty payroll. Julio Cesar makes $250,000, approximately, and Nagamura is right on his heels. But after that, the spending drops. Even a spendthrift team like Colorado pays Conor Casey $400,000 and that price tag gives you an indication of what it will cost to bring a guy like Casey, whose job it is to do nothing but take passes and put them in the back of the net, into SKC’s lineup next year.

    They should look to free up money. Espinoza’s gone, and I think it’s Teal’s time to go. He’s regressing and unfortunately may never become the player it looked like he would become two years ago. I think they could try and send Convey on his way, too.

    • the dude says:

      Ya gotta pay to play late in the season, %. Houston knew we did not have a legitimate open field goal scorer and played us like a fiddle on their way to being beat by San Jose/LA.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for reading! So close for Sporting, yet as most have observed, a few crucial missing parts.

      Stay tuned for some end of season recaps, interviews, etc.

  4. Scoop says:

    Of course, in the end the overall top seed, San Jose, made Sporting look a little better perhaps, squandering a 1-0 aggregate lead earned on the road by falling 3-1 at home to drop the series with LA. Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, I will be cheering for Seattle since the Sounders have never won the MLS Cup while the others have multiple times. The title match is scheduled for December 1. Can you imagine what it would be like if, say, Montreal was hosting the game on the basis of being the team still playing that had the best record during the regular season when compared to its opponent? I shiver at the thought.

  5. Rick Nichols says:

    I guess I’ve now got 3-4 months to get “the Sporting song” done if it’s to be ready by the start of the 2013 season. Sure looks like the Dynamo are up to their old tricks again in the playoffs, having dispatched of Sporting earlier in the week and whipping D.C. United 3-1 today.

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