The night was crisp and cold – scarf weather, perfect for soccer – as the teams took the field around 8:15. Sporting KC needed a 2 goal win Wednesday night at home against the New England Revolution to advance outright into the second round of the MLS Playoffs.
And that’s exactly what the boys in blue got, though it took 30 minutes of overtime and an unlikely strike from defender Seth Sinovic to knot things up in the last 10 minutes of regulation.
After falling behind in the aggregate series 2-1 in the away leg, Sporting boss Peter Vermes made comments about how his squad would take matters into their own hands at home. Some questioned if that meant he was encouraging his team to play dirty.
“If there’s one thing that you will always notice about our team, there’s not a guy that ever cheap shots someone,” Vermes said after the game. “If they did, I’m the first guy to step in and take care of that because that’s not the way we want to play. We play hard, but we play fair…”
Indeed, the final foul tally was 27 for New England to Sporting’s 17. And here’s another crazily lopsided stat: Shots for KC, 32; New England, 5.
KC created chances all night, but many wound up heading straight for New England keeper Matt Reis. Like the long range attempt in the first few minutes from CJ Sapong and then a flick header moments later from Dom Dwyer on a close in set piece. Reis was like a ball-magnet.
A big part of creating so many chances was the insertion of Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura, in place of injured Lawrence Olum, and Teal Bunbury. The two paired with Uri in the midfield nicely, keeping the ball for nearly 70% of the game.
This allowed Graham Zusi to go up top and roam around more freely. And roam he did, creating havoc all over the pitch all night.
Feeding the home team was one of the best crowds I’ve seen for a soccer game.
They surged and got crazy at the drop of a hat early on, urging their boys on through the chilly night.
“It was an unbelievable environment and I’ve always said the interesting thing for me here at Sporting Park is that there’s a connection between the fans and the players and the players and the fans,” Vermes said afterwards. “And that is the thing that needs to be replicated all over this league for it to continue to grow.”
Sporting continued to create half chances by not only playing at maximum speed (as always), but maximum urgency as well, something that isn’t always there, honestly. They were stringing together passes and possessing like mothers. But that’s kinda what they always do, in typical Vermes fashion. The problem has been the finishing.
That was the worry when the clock was edging toward halftime with the score still locked at 0-0, New England up 2-1 aggregate.
But the game split wide open in the 40th minute. KC quick restarted it near midfield and caught the visitors napping. The longball bobbled through and found the lucky foot of Aurelien Collin, who one timed the left footer home from close range to put KC up 1-0 and tie the aggregate series at 2-2.
In the second half things really opened up, with both teams playing free, pushing for a goal, and taking chances.
Really entertaining stuff.
In the 70th minute The Revs stunned the crowd with a one timer off a set piece that put the visitors up again by one goal on the series.
And KC needed to score another just to tie things up.
With less than 20 minutes left in their season, KC threw caution to the wind. And things weren’t looking great. Sporting was spending as much time complaining to the ref as they were playing the game.
But not so fast Pat Sajak. Who else but Seth Sinovic hits a one time blast off a – wait for it – Graham Zusi flick header (?) in the 79th to knot things once again. Zusi can head the ball? Oh yeah, Costa Rica…
“There’s no better feeling,” Sinovic explained afterwards. “I was so excited with that celebration. Hopefully I showed a little bit of how much this team and this city means to me and how much it means to play for them.”
More beer, please.
And then Claudio Bieler came in. Things were just weird.
As if it were divined, Sporting should have ended it at the end of regulation when Zusi went beast and cut through a couple defenders before depositing a perfect ball to Nags at the top of the box unmarked. He took his time, but put the low effort wide, and moments later the final whistle blew. It felt like that was our chance.
We were in for 30 more minutes, no golden goal here, folks.
The first 15 were absolutely dominated by KC, and the Revs looked like they weren’t even trying to attack, just playing for penalties. Which is exactly what they were doing.
“We were hoping to get to penalties because we were hanging on and we thought we had the advantage there,” explained Revs main man Jay Heaps.
“Their coach was trying to get them to step up, step up, step up, but they couldn’t,” Vermes said red-assedly. “They couldn’t sustain it. These guys break them down, break them down, break them down and that’s a part of who we are.”
In the second 15 KC came out gunning again, with so many little half chances that went unfinished.
Like a little rebound off a corner that fell sweetly to the feet of Chance Myers. Deflected.
But then guess what? Yep. Milk-carton man, Claudio Bieler came to Sporting Nation’s rescue. He found himself in the box on the receiving end of a little ground cross and made no mistake finishing the first timer. The goal was created by a nice driving run from Benny, who slotted across a perfect little ball on the ground. Where the hell have those two been?
Up 4-3 in the series, KC just needed to hold on baby!
Things got a little crazy in the final moments with Reis dribbling out of the box, losing the ball and crumpling. Zusi collected the loose ball and advanced on the semi-empty net only to hit his high effort off the top of the cross bar.
But it didn’t matter a few moments later as the final whistle blew with KC leading the aggregate series 4-3. They now face their nemesis, the Houston Dynamo, with the first game this Saturday.
“It’s just amazing how we meet each other all the time,” said Jimmy Nielsen of the Eastern Conference Finals matchup with Houston. “There are going to be some very exciting games. You know it’s a quick turnaround so we’ve got to prepare ourselves for that game.”