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Sporting Kansas City crowned 2013 MLS champions after 10 rounds of penalty kicks

Dec 7, 2013, 7:35 PM EDT

SKC-Cup

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After 120 minutes and 10 rounds of penalty kicks, the only thing that separated Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was the bottom of a crossbar. But that post, saving goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen after he dove away from Lovel Palmer’s attempt, gave Kansas City their first Major League Soccer title in 13 years, the team’s 7-6 shootout win after Saturday’s 1-1 draw crowning Peter Vermes’ team champions after MLS Cup 2013.

It was the second straight MLS Cup appearance decided by penalty kicks for Real Salt Lake, who won the 2009 title in Seattle over the LA Galaxy in a shootout. But after second half goals from Kyle Beckerman and Aurélien Collin, the visitors couldn’t claim another extra time title, with the final set of kicks by field players (and Collin’s conversion) giving Sporting their second MLS title.

The home team went into the fifth round of penalties up 3-2, giving Graham Zusi a chance to claim the title before additional kicks were needed. But scraping the top of the crossbar before Javier Morales leveled the shootout, the U.S. international’s miss paved the way for extra tries, with an additional five rounds needed before Palmer’s miss gave Sporting the crown.

Sporting starts strong

The first quarter-hour pass with Sporting in control, the hosts holding 60 percent of the ball while registering the game’s first two shots. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando initially went untested, however, the U.S. international left to manage his penalty area on Sporting’s four early set pieces.

No surprise, Zusi was central to Sporting’s early success. Playing behind Salt Lake right back Tony Beltran on a frozen east flank of the field, Sporting created their first near-chance through their star attacker, a cross from the left that an oncoming Paulo Nagamura couldn’t get on goal. Zusi came inside to create another near-chance in the middle of the half for Dom Dwyer, a through ball the striker couldn’t make turn into a chance on Rimando. In the 25th minute, back on the left, a Zusi cross floated far post for C.J. Sapong, who beat Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert to head down the first shot on goal. A diving save kept the match scoreless.

Four minutes later, Real Salt Lake nearly opened the scoring when a cross from left back Chris Wingert met a weak punch by Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen, the ball deflecting backward for RSL attacker Robbie Findley. Turning toward an open net, Findley hit the base of the right post from a sharp angle, the resulting rebound rolling back to a retreating Nielsen.

By the half-hour mark, the match had finally opened up: a header by Dwyer that forced Rimando to come claim a ball; a flick from Luis Gil that put Álvaro Saborío behind the defense; a 36th minute header from the Costa Rican that went just wide. If the coldest MLS match ever was frozen at kickoff, the 30th minute saw the end of its thaw.

By halftime, the game had taken on it’s early character, even if Real Salt Lake had started controlling more of the ball. Two late first half fouls deep in RSL’s half saw Zusi go wide on a direct kick before a restart from the left fell un-played in penalty area. When, after a weak clearance, Besler’s chip found Dwyer in front of goal, with Rimando forced into a diving challenge that preserved the scoreless first half.

The second half’s kickoff brought more Sporting set pieces, with a foul down their left in the 48th minute leading to a Sapong chance put over the bar. When Real Salt Lake needed a Chris Schuler challenge two minutes later to prevent Dwyer from going in on goal, the hosts appeared to have found momentum in the locker room – a notion that was dispelled moments later.

Real Salt Lake’s break through; Sporting’s response

In the 52nd minute, Beckerman’s no-look chip from 40 yards out found Saborío open just outside the penalty area, right back Chance Myers having kept the RSL number nine onside. Collin, retreating into space he had just vacated, ran past Saborío when as Salt Lake forward pushed the ball to his right, an ensuing shot lashed around Belser and past Nielsen for the game’s first goal.

source:  Just past the hour, Beckerman nearly doubled RSL’s lead, a layoff from  Findley seeing the Salt Lake captain put a shot off Nielsen’s left post. Twelve minutes later, the post favored Kansas City for the third time, with Javier Morales hitting the bottom of Nielsen’s right upright off another Findley layoff.

The visitors were left to rue their missed chances when, in the 76th minute, a set piece finally broke Sporting’s way. With his sixth corner kick of the match,  Zusi lofted a ball to the penalty spot, where Collin had beaten Schuler. Rising above the RSL center half, the game’s Most Valuable Player headed the equalizer down and inside the left post, his third goal of the postseason making it 1-1.

That Collin was even on the pitch to score the winner will be a point of controversy. In the 69th minute, trying to defend Findley one-on-one down RSL’s left, Collin lunged in on the RSL attacker and took him down – the type of blunt challenge that would normally draw a caution. Carrying a yellow picked up in the first half, Collin was the beneficiary of referee Hilario Grajeda’s reluctance to unbalance the sides. Seven minutes later, the Frenchman was heading home the game’s equalizing goal.

In the 79th, Sporting nearly took their first lead. Substitute Claudio Bieler, open from 12 yards out, went well over with his first touch, a left-footed shot off a Sinovic cross that the Argentine put into the stands. It was the last decent chance of regulation, with MLS Cup needing extra time for the first time since 2010.

Prelude to a shootout

The start of extra time saw play resume in front of Real Salt Lake’s goal, with Nagamura going close with a shot from 20 yards out in the 92nd minute. Moments later, a long throw from Matt Belser fell in the middle of the area for Zusi, with a left-footed half-volley pushed over the crossbar by Rimando registering the first shot on goal of Zusi’s postseason career.

Sporting went close again in the 102nd minute when Bieler won an aerial duel with Nat Borchers, heading down for Sapong. Rushed by Schuler, the former Rookie of the Year went over the bar. One minute later, after a through ball from Benny Feilhaber, Schuler was again in place to contest a Sapong chance, with Sporting’s fans left appealing for a penalty after the defender got his body between his man and the ball. When, moments later, Salt Lake had their own near-goal denied (Saborío’s header from five yards out waved off as offside), the teams were ready to shift ends, 15 minutes closer to penalty kicks.

The final quarter-hour of play saw few chances, initial pressure from the hosts fading as extra time became inevitable. After 105 minutes of playing in below-freezing temperatures, the teams began bracing for the tiebreaker. For the first time since 2009, when Real Salt Lake beat Los Angeles in Seattle, an MLS Cup would go to penalty kicks.

Ten rounds to decide a title

After Bieler’s opener gave Sporting a 1-0 lead, Saborío produced the shootout’s first edge, putting his shot over the bar and into the sea of Kansas City fans seated behind Sporting Park’s north goal. Nagamura then gave Kansas City a two-goal lead, an advantage Nielsen strengthened with his ensuing save on Ned Grabavoy. Rimando would return the favor on the next miss, blocking Besler’s try, allowing Beckerman’s chip into the middle of goal to bring Salt Lake back within one.

Benny Feilhaber’s blast high and to the middle was nearly saved by Rimando, but the RSL keeper could only block the shot into the top of goal, making it 3-1, Sporting. With the shootout’s first must-make shot, João Plata went high and to the left, barely beating a leaping Nielsen.

Then, with a chance to clinch, Zusi went over the left of goal, giving Real Salt Lake a chance to pull even. With the visitor’s second must-make try, Morales sent Nielsen right before rolling his shot into the left of goal, making it 3-3 after five kicks.

Rimando would move early on the sixth kick, going to his left while Seth Sinovic finished to his right. Schuler would follow by drilling his try into the middle of goal, barely missing Nielsen’s outstretched leg a the Sporting keeper dove left.

At 4-4, Sapong finishing inside the lower left corner, forcing Beltran to make his shot to keep RSL alive. Nailing the left post, the Salt Lake right back beat Nielsen after the Sporting captain had guessed correctly.

Then, giving RSL their second major break of the shootout, a tentative Lawrence Olum rolled his shot well-wide of the left post, giving Sebastian Velasquez a chance to win it for the visitors. But guessing correctly for a second straight kick, Nielsen saved the  midfielder’s try, keeping the ball out of the right side of goal.

Starting the ninth round of kicks, Myers gave Sporting a 6-5 lead, chipping into the right of goal. Borchers would follow by driving a shot to the left, barely putting the ball over a goalkeeper who’d guessed correctly for the third straight kick.

The last Sporting field player to kick, Collin put his shot into the right side netting, one ball length wide of a diving Rimando. It was a margin that would prove decisive when Palmer, with the 20th kick of the shootout, put his shot under the bottom of the bar, giving Sporting a 7-6 win in the 10-round shootout.


Goals

Sporting Kansas City: Aurélien Collin 76

Real Salt Lake: Álvaro Saboríó 52

Lineups

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell (Laurence Olum 6), Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer (Claudio Bieler 71), Graham Zusi

Unused substitutes: Eric Kronberg, Federico Bessone, Ike Opara, Teal Bunbury

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (Lovel Palmer 71); Luis Gil (Sebastian Velasquez 87), Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Javier Morales; Robbie Findley (João Plata 117), Álvaro Saborío

Unused substitutes: Jett Attinella, Cole Grossman, Olmes Garcia, Brandon McDonald

  1. mvktr2 - Dec 7, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    My first hope was a great entertaining hard fought game. Check.
    My second hope was for no shootout finish. XXX
    My third hope was that if it went to shootout we’d see goalie vs goalie. OH SO CLOSE!!!

    Wonderfully entertaining game MLS should be proud of. Lots of quality, tiny bits short on finishing, and high drama. Any non MLS but still soccer fans should have been won over.

  2. talgrath - Dec 7, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    Crazy game, I’m rather surprised nobody was sent off for all the fouling. The temperature was definitely a huge issue, the next MLS cup needs to be earlier in the year so it’s not so frozen and awkward. Ten rounds of penalty kicks, ten! We were so close to the goalkeeper showdown that I love so much in penalty kicks.

    • mvktr2 - Dec 7, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      I don’t have a problem with the cold, it’s a fact of life in colder climates around the world. 10-20 degrees is not ideal soccer weather but it effected both teams equally. I thought both teams handled the conditions quite well.

      The ref should have pulled more yellows early to get things under control but eventually the game settled down and they got the big calls correct.

  3. hildezero - Dec 7, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    When it goes to penalties I like it when it ends early, but when it goes longer I dislike it, unless if it goes all the way to the goalkeepers. Then I’m satisfied. So close.

  4. eo22 - Dec 7, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    What a stupid way to decide a championship. Let’s not see which team is best over 9 months, or even over two games. Let’s have the two teams play one game in 26 days prior to the one game match. And then, let’s have a free kick by the tenth-best player on each team decide the “champion”.
    I am a BIG soccer fan, but crowning a champion is something that MLS does worse than any other major professional sport, soccer or otherwise.

  5. nickp91 - Dec 7, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Big win for kc

  6. the8man - Dec 7, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    Helluva match. And if no team asserts themself as the best after 120 minutes, then let the fates of PKs decide it.

    Great crowd and well played match despite the brutality of the weather. And the beauty of it? Far less commercial interruption than what you see in football or baseball.

  7. creek0512 - Dec 7, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    @eo22

    Explain how the MLS playoffs are different from the UEFA Champions League or the FIFA World Cup. All have one game championships that are determined by a penalty shootout if the score is tied after extra time.

    • footballer4ever - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      @ creek0512

      That “BIG” soccer fan sure does not know what he is talking about. There’s no need to say one is a “BIG” fan because either you are a football fan or not. Having said that, he goes on to typically compare football with other major US professional sport, yet he fails to even mention what a better way to decide a championship as he sees it. His worst mistake is to compare football with other football leagues or tournaments which all follow Fifa’s rules. Some people should think before they talk, but in this case before they type.

      • joeyt360 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        I kind of agree with you, but to be fair, FIFA rules for OT are generally pretty loose. They say that it must be 30 minutes divided into two halves. They do NOT say you couldn’t:

        1) Have another 30 minutes after that
        2) Have more subs

        (In fact, UEFA actually considered the second one last year for their competitions). You could probably get away with doing the second without the first, though not the first without also doing the second.

  8. footballer4ever - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Congratulations, SKC & RSL for an exciting MLS Cup final. The first half was non eventful, but the second half it was exciting up to extra time and those penalty kicks, wow! heart pounding for sure.

    RSL had some “bad luck” in which 2 sure goals hit the post instead. That was just a sign that luck was not on their side in a way. In the end, both football clubs rose up to the ocassion to deliver a championship game worth watching and talking about. You’ve done MLS and its fans proud! Thank you!

  9. eo22 - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Imagine the World Cup next summer decided on penalty kicks taken by the tenth best player on each team (or perhaps the 12th or 13th best if the teams have used their subs) – that’s a nightmare scenario. So yes, I should have blamed FIFA rules and not MLS for that one. (But the scheduling is still a disaster.)

    You want alternatives? The FA Cup does a replay (at least once) – that’s an option. Or if that screws up TV schedules, how about you JUST KEEP PLAYING until someone scores? Give teams an extra sub for every 15 minutes beyond 120 – use the Golden Goal (either immediately after 90 or after the 120).

    Or are you telling me honestly that you actually like penalty kicks as a way to decide a 10-month season?

  10. footballer4ever - Dec 8, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    @eo22

    so now you remember other football leagues and tournaments can end in penalty kicks just as MLS cup 2013 did? 1994 WC , 2011 chelsea vs Bayern. The Golden Rule only works as long as a goal is scored and for the most part it makes teams play more defensively than offensively. After 120 mins, the game must be decided and penalty kicks is what mostly all players are able or trained to do so it makes sense to decide it that way. If teams don’t like it then more reason to make sure they score the needed goal to end the deadlock. One thing i would support is to increase substitution from 3 to 6 players so the football quality is not diminished for exhausted players on the field.

  11. footballer4ever - Dec 8, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    Or how about instead of free kicks then have footballers try “field goal” shots ala rugby/eggball to ensure there are few ties :P

  12. reformed2012 - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    Or, scrap extra time. PK after 90 minutes. Quick and simple. If a team don’t want PKs go aggressive and score.

    • footballer4ever - Dec 11, 2013 at 2:15 AM

      or how about regular goal counts as 6 points, a free kick goal counts as 3 points and a penalty kicks is valued as 1 point? Nah, leave the “creative” scoring to eggball which changes rules just as they change their “paddings” ;)

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