By ALAN HAINKEL
KANSAS CITY, Kansas — In an intense, physical affair, Sporting Kansas City overcame a one-goal deficit from the first leg of their conference semifinal with the New England Revolution to force extra time at Sporting Park.
Claudio Bieler, playing his first match in more than a month, came on as a sub in the 84th minute and scored in the second half of extra time for a 4-3 win on aggregate.
Defenders Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic (who spent the 2010 season with New England) scored for Sporting KC in regulation sandwiched around a goal by Dimitry Imbongo for New England.
Former Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber gave a lot of credit for Sporting’s performance to the return of Paulo Nagamura. Nagamura had not played since a 3-0 win on Sept. 7 against Columbus.
“He was unbelievable,” Feilhaber said of Nagamura. “It’s like you said: he hasn’t played in over two months. And he tells us during the game, me and Uri (Oriol Rosell), ‘Guys, I don’t know if I have much left,’ but it never seems like he quits, never seems like he stops, even when he’s tired. He just keeps going. He’s got, you know, big heart and he was huge for us.”
Sporting KC dominated possession in the first half, controlling the ball for 71.4 percent of the first 45 minutes. This was helped by the poor passing of the Revolution, who completed only 58.7 percent of their passes in the opening period.
The Revolution were much better in the second half and extra time, completing almost 75 percent of their passes, and that resulted in raising their possession percentage to just over 43 percent.
Collin opened the scoring in the 41st minute. Defender Chance Myers put a long ball into the penalty area from the right wing. Dom Dwyer got a head to it and it deflected off of Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. After the deflection, if fell directly to Collin, who buried it past Matt Reis.
Imbongo equalized on the night and restored New England’s series lead in the 70th minute on an assist from Kelyn Rowe. Rowe had a free kick from about 35 yards out on the right wing. Imbongo caught it on the volley with a sideways scissor kick and put it past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. Even if Nielsen had caught it, it would have been a goal as Nielsen had fallen backward into the net.
Sinovic equalized the series again in the 79th minute. Collin lofted a long ball forward from just the other side of midfield. Just outside the penalty area, Graham Zusi flicked a header backwards to Sinovic, who dribbled forward a couple yards and fired a laser to the far post past Reis. It was his second ever postseason goal, the first coming in the second leg of ta playoff loss to Houston in 2012.
It was also one Sinovic seemed to know was coming. In the locker room after the game, Nielsen said he asked Sinovic just before practice on Tuesday, “Is it not time for you to score again?” Sinovic’s response? “It’ll come tomorrow.”
Bieler scored in the 113th minute to win the series on an assist from Feilhaber. Reis had thrown an outlet intended for Diego Fagundez, but Feilhaber read it well and intercepted the ball. Feilhaber drove to the right side of the penalty area, where he crossed it to Bieler, who simply redirected it into the net past Reis. It was Bieler’s first goal from the run of play since July 13 against Toronto.
Sporting KC now advances to the Eastern Conference final where they will take on the Houston Dynamo for the third consecutive postseason. The first leg will take place at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The return leg, thanks to the international break, will take place at Sporting Park on Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.