Sporting Kansas City absolutely dominated the possession in the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Houston on Wednesday night, but it wasn't enough. Seth Sinovic's first MLS goal in the 64th minute was all the offense Sporting KC could muster and they won the match 1-0, but lost the series 2-1 on aggregate.
How dominant was Sporting KC? They held the ball for 71 percent of the match. Houston had only one corner kick and one shot on goal for 90 minutes. In open-play crosses, Sporting KC held a 31-1 advantage for the match.
Yet, Sporting KC just couldn't finish. They had plenty of chances, but they just couldn't find the back of the net.
This is a team that wasn't ready for the offseason. Team captain Jimmy Nielsen dictated a message to fellow goalkeeper Jon Kempin to put on the team message board before training on Tuesday. It said, "I'M NOT READY FOR A VACATION, SO LET'S SHOW SOME [expletive] BALLS, ATTITUDE AND HUNGER TOMORROW!"
They definitely did that. The guys left everything they had out on the field. They increased the pressure on Houston, if that was possible, after they scored. This team wanted to win badly.
During the postgame press conference I attended, Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear was asked how long the last 26 minutes of the game were (after the goal). Kinnear said:
As soon as they scored, I whispered to [assistant coach] Tim Hanley, “I think that we’re in trouble.” And we were. But lucky for us, we had a couple bounces go our way and bodies thrown in our way. It was definitely a long 26 minutes. At one point, I said something about getting a substitute ready for the 82nd minute and looked up and realized it was only the 72nd minute. It was tough, and they kept on coming and we could never get the ball under control. I don’t think Nielsen even touched the ball much in the second half, so it was a long 26 minutes. I give Kansas City a lot of credit. They never let up and even the last play of the game was a cross into the box.
Sinovic, acquired early in the 2011 season, had never scored an MLS goal. He came close a few times, but never put one in. In his 75th appearance, including the playoffs, he caused a minor eruption at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
After an incredible individual effort by Kei Kamara to get the ball, Graham Zusi took Kamara's pass and put an inch-perfect cross to the back post, where Sinovic was waiting for it. His diving header sent the 20,894 fans in attendance into a frenzy, giving them hope the team could advance after all.
But it wasn't to be.
During the postgame press conference, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told us that he was especially pleased with the team's performance. Vermes said:
What can I say, I think it was, in the three years that I’ve been coaching the team,the best performance we had in 90 minutes. We absolutely dominated the game. Guys played with incredible, incredible concentration and organization. I thought Uri [Rosell] and [Peterson] Joseph were outstanding. The way they moved the ball from side to side, I though they were just tremendous, I thought it was just a complete game, other than getting a second goal, we created some very good chances.
In the locker room after the game, the prevailing sentiment from players was one of pride in the performance in the second leg, but also one of disappointment that the journey had been cut short. The players that I talked to all thanked the fans for their support, but wished they could have done more. A couple even apologized for falling short in the series.
As far as I'm concerned, these guys have nothing to be ashamed of. It's never easy playing against the other team and the refs too, especially when that team is Houston and the thuggish way their players play the game.
Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now. The Royals fan part of me will simply say, "Wait 'til next year."