They painted the wall!
“What’s extremely amazing to me is how everything (the ownership group) have talked about has come to fruition,” said SKC coach Peter Vermes after his team won the MLS Cup Saturday night in KCK.
In dramatic fashion, KC’s most progressive pro sports franchise made good on its ambitious three-year marketing campaign by besting Real Salt Lake in the longest penalty shootout in MLS Cup history.
The over-capacity crowd was happy to settle into another hour of frigid weather after Sporting Kansas City rallied late in the second half to knot the score at 1-1. Granted, no one wants to win via a shootout, but the game’s got to end somehow right?
After a particularly putrid first half that saw muddled play in the center of the pitch and goalkicks that struggled to make it to half, the players finally adjusted to their nerves and the elements and played a proper second frame.
And RSL was the first to seize the moment around the 50th minute. Drum circle leader Kyle Beckerman possessed dangerously in the attacking third before he slipped a deft ball through to Alvaro Saborio who made the most with a tiny bit of space to beat Jimmy Nielsen near bar.
KC continued to press, even with the limited presence of their recent go-to-guy, Benny Feilhaber. Benny failed to make much of an impact on the game – at least not nearly as much of an impact as he has through the rest of the playoffs.
Adding to that was that Uri went down in just the 10th minute of the match, with an ankle inury. His loss was huge, as replacement Lawrence Olum isn’t nearly as adept at opening up passing lanes. Uri’s loss was felt all night long, with second-shoulder runs catching the Sporting defense multiple times.
This resulted in some dangerous chances for Salt Lake, and honestly the visitors were unlucky to walk away runners-up. They struck 3 shots off the woodwork, and all of them had left the Puma no chance. Plus Salt Lake had a goal called back that was ruled offside, but was very close either way.
Still KC battled on, and in the 76th minute, Graham Zusi did what he does, swinging a ball into the area to find the massive dome of air enforcer Aurelien Collin. The Frenchman rose like a salmon and snapped the header past MLS’ top keeper, Nick Rimando, to even the score.
Though Zusi was a hero in regulation, he turned to the dark side when it was his turn in the penalty shootout.
After playing two scoreless overtime periods, it went to penalties, and KC was up 3-2 with one shot remaining. A Zusi goal and Sporting wins.
But the storybook ending – best player, national team darling, Best XI, cool beard – was not to be had. Zusi did his best Eddie Johnson imitation and skied the ball into the Cauldron.
That means each team gets one kicker. So if the first team’s guy hits, and the second team’s misses, it’s over.
It went back and forth for a few more, before RSL had a chance to win it after Lawrence Olum scuffed one wide of the target. But in a huge brass play, Nielsen dived low and to his left to stop the would-be-winner from the foot of Sebastian Velasquez.
Real Salt Lake dropped their heads collectively, as the championship that was in their grasp slipped away.
Frenchie buried the next one, and the Cauldron did the rest, cheering on Lovel Palmer as he hit a laugher off the crossbar. And that was that.
The funky bass line came on.
“I’m going to Kansas Cit-ay,” blared the loudspeakers, as they always do when Sporting get a result at home.
People hugged and screamed. Sporting dogpiled. It was cold.
Collin was named MVP for good reason, and he was solid as can be all through the playoffs, with three goals to his name. He talked about his club, and why they rock.
“They showed me something I never had in Europe,” Collin explained. “For the first time in my life, I had the best facilities, the best environment, the best infrastructure. I know I am a better player now than I was three years ago. I know that if I stay here, I will be a better player in three years than I am now. I wasn’t expecting all of this…”
Most people weren’t expecting all of this.
Some were though.
“When I first came here to Kansas City, they showed me the stadium, I thought that was our practice facility,” explained Nielsen. “And now today, four years later, we are in this environment here. And now it’s unbelievable fans and an unbelievable organization. I’ve been reading a few billboards that Kansas City is the soccer capital of America. You know what, no matter where you go, no matter where you’re driving, you see people with Sporting KC markers and jerseys and it’s those people that deserve this trophy today.”