Photo by Bill Barrett/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City spent the past few years knocking on the door of an MLS Cup title and on Saturday they finally made their way through.
Sporting KC won the 2013 MLS Cup in front of 21,650 fans on a frigid Saturday evening at Sporting Park, defeating Real Salt Lake, 7-6, on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw that had plenty of physical play and drama. The trophy is the second of its kind for Sporting and first since the Kansas City Wizards won it in 2000.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am and how happy I am for the guys because I know what it’s like as a player to win an MLS Cup,” said Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes, who is the first person to win the MLS Cup with the same club as both a player and coach. “It’s a special moment because you’ll always have that as a player and nobody can ever take that away from you.”
Aurelien Collin, who scored the equalizer for Sporting in the second half and was named the MLS Cup MVP, converted the game-winning penalty in the 10th round of the shootout. RSL had an opportunity to extend the match after Collin scored, but Lovel Palmer saw his effort from 12 yards smack off the crossbar.
“That’s the best penalty he has hit since he’s been with us, in training or anywhere else,” said Vermes of Collin’s first career penalty kick. “That was an unbelievable PK. He saves them for the good times.”
Real Salt Lake, which took a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute through a superb strike from Alvaro Saborio, had a chance to win the match earlier in the shootout but failed to capitalize. After substitute Lawrence Olum hit a weak penalty kick well wide of goal, Sebastien Velasquez was denied by Jimmy Nielsen.
“It’s every kid’s dream and for it not to happen the way you see it finishing, it’s always tough,” said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “I’m sure he’ll learn from it. It’s real surreal. It’s happening so fast. You take the kick thinking that it’s going to go in and when it doesn’t it turns a dream into a nightmare.”
The match was a physical and open one from the opening whistle, but shocking misses and shots hitting off the woodwork kept the match scoreless. RSL forward Robbie Findley saw a shot from a tight angle on an open goal smack off the post in the 29th minute, Saborio missed wide on a close-range header seven minutes later and C.J. Sapong fired high on a shot from inside the six-yard box in first half stoppage time.
While Sporting KC was struggling to find its finishing touch, Real Salt Lake did not have much luck going their way. RSL hit the post on three occasions throughout the 120-minute game, including on a Beckerman shot from distance in the 62nd minute and a curled effort from Javier Morales in the 73rd.
Both strikes would have made the score 2-0 in RSL’s favor.
“The bounces didn’t go our way,” said Beckerman. “We hit the post three times…Of course it’s heartbreaking to lose in the final but a lot to be proud of.”
That lack of luck opened the door for Collin’s tying goal. In the 76th minute, Graham Zusi hit a corner kick from the right that the French center back powered home to inject life into Sporting KC and their fans and ultimately force extra time.
Sporting KC, which lost starting midfielder Oriol Rosell eight minutes in because of an ankle injury, also benefited from an offside call on a Saborio header at the end of the first half of extra time. Saborio nodded home a cross into the back of the net and began celebrating with the Real Salt Lake fans in attendance before realizing the linesman’s flag was up.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was not called upon to make a key block in the 30 extra minutes, but he did make a pair of quality saves in regulation to prevent Sapong and Zusi from scoring.
In the shootout, Sporting KC jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to tallies from Claudio Bieler and Paulo Nagamura and misses from Saborio (who shot high) and Ned Grabavoy (who was denied by Nielsen).
Sporting KC center back Matt Besler then stepped up for his shot, but failed to give his club a commanding 3-0 advantage. Besler tried picking out the bottom right corner, but Rimando blocked it.
“Funny story that earlier this year in Kansas City with the (U.S.) national team, we each had to take five PKs and I hit five out of five there against Nicky Rimando,” said Besler. “I was honestly debating all week long if it went to PKs if I was going to change it up because we both know I go there but at the end of the day I stuck with what I felt confident with and he saved it.”
Besler’s miss, a couple of makes and Zusi’s skied effort in the fifth round allowed RSL to pull level and force sudden death penalty kicks. It took five more rounds to find a winner, but Collin’s well-taken penalty kick and Palmer’s shot off the crossbar handed Sporting KC a championship they’ve long wanted.
“It’s all about winning the cup for our city, for our team, for the ownership,” said Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber. “Everything is as good as can be right now.”
Here are the game highlights:
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