Sporting KC beats RSL on penalty kicks to win MLS Cup

IMAGE, SPORTINGKC.COM

There may not have been much hype leading up to the MLS Cup, but the drama of the game more than made up for it.

After 120 minutes of play and nine rounds of penalty kicks, Sporting KC finally managed to separate themselves from Real Salt Lake at the right time, beating the visitors in a pressure filled finale. It is Sporting KC’s second ever MLS Cup and their first since 2000.

“This is definitely a big cherry on top at the moment,” Sporting K.C. coach Peter Vermes said. “When the rule came out to give MLS Cup to the team with the most points, I think that was one of the best things this league has done. It’s tremendous to be able to bring this home to our city.”

Salt Lake came up short on their first two penalty kicks, but managed to fight their way to contention through five rounds and pushed Sporting KC in sudden death. With a chance to take the match in the eighth round, K.C. keeper Jimmy Nielsen managed a dramatic save on young midfielder Sebastian Velazquez to keep the home team alive.

Cup MVP Aurelien Collin sent a thunderous shot past the outstretched paw of Nick Rimando in the ninth round and Lovel Palmer did the rest, hitting the crossbar and ending RSL’s hope of a championship.

In order, Claudio Bieler, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Seth Sinovic, CJ Sapong, Chance Myers and Collin all scored in the shootout Sporting KC, while Kyle Beckerman, Joao Plata, Javier Morales, Chris Schuler, Tony Beltran and Nat Borchers converted their chances for Salt Lake.

It was a heart-stopping end to a dramatic and physical encounter. A tepid start to the first half in the frigid, MLS Cup-record breaking cold warmed up as both teams began to take a chippy stance towards the close of the half. Robbie Findley, who enjoyed a solid start to the game, had the best chance of the first half, ringing his shot off the post in the 29th minute. Neither side could break through or make the most of their opportunities.

RSL striker Alvaro Saborio broke the ice in the 52nd minute. Beckerman lobbed a no-look pass over the K.C. defenders, into the box and directly onto the path of the Costa Rican forward. Saborio slotted his opportunity past Nielsen for the early lead.

After squandering a handful of opportunities, Sporting K.C. finally got it together in the 76th minute. Graham Zusi measured a corner into the box where Collin found space, burying a header past Rimando to equalize.

“The second half was pretty hard for me because I had a small kick in the head,” Collin said. “I couldn’t see that well, so that’s why I scored. I was very lucky that (Graham) Zusi put the ball exactly where I wanted it. I put my head up and it went through, so I’m happy. I don’t know what I was thinking when I scored—I’m just happy I scored.”

Both teams had their opportunities in extra time as well. Zusi sent a point blank shot off of a Matt Besler throw in on net, but Rimando tipped the shot high. Meanwhile, RSL thought they broke through on a perfectly placed, short angle Saborio header, but he was eventually called offside on the play.

With PK specialist Nick Rimando in net, Salt Lake looked to have the clear advantage heading into penalties, but Nielsen managed to turn around a shaky performance, making key stops and helping the home side celebrate a Championship in front of 21,650 home fans.

“Today, we had the confidence,” Rimando admitted. “We can’t go in here thinking that we’re going to lose because we’re not supposed to be here. Having some finals and losing them is in the back of your mind a little bit, but we lost on penalty kicks to a very good Kansas City team.”