Sporting Kansas City came out on top in a 10-round shootout following a 1-1 tie to defeat Real Salt Lake and win the 2013 MLS Cup on Saturday at Sporting Park.
This is the second time, and first since 2000, that Sporting KC have hoisted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.
This wasn't the most beautifully played match, but it was exciting.
There was also a decent reason for why the players weren't performing at their peak ability. It was insanely cold for this match:
With a matchup of MLS' highest scoring team, Real Salt Lake, and the league's stingiest defense, Sporting KC, fans witnessed a tale of two halves.
The first was a defensive affair inspired by the strong defensive pressure of Sporting.
Salt Lake took just three shots in the half and none were on goal. Conversely, Kansas City took 10 shots with three coming on goal in the first half.
Sporting was the far more aggressive side in the half and it helped them take Real Salt Lake out of their game. RSL likes to control possession and build a rhythm. Sporting kept them from doing that with intense on-the-ball pressure and wound up winning 52 percent of possession for the first half.
Were it not for the stellar play of goalkeeper Nick Rimando, RSL would have entered halftime facing a deficit:
As it was, the two teams entered the break locked at zero.
Something Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said at halftime must have clicked with his team. The second half saw more offensive success for both teams, and that started with RSL.
They came out in the second half looking far more fluid and effective from the start. It quickly paid off in the form of the match's first goal.
Kyle Beckerman was a huge part of the improved play for Salt Lake. The 31-year-old midfielder was directing traffic and making accurate and aggressive passes. One such pass found the feet of Alvaro Saborio inside the penalty area. After a quality first touch, Saborio was able to slide in a score in the side of the goal.
Real Salt Lake were understandably excited:
With the backing of a boisterous and cold fanbase, Sporting continued to press and keep the pressure on to prove they wouldn't wilt in the face of a deficit.
Both sides missed out a great opportunity to add a goal in the following minutes. Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales had a shot bounce off the inside of the post for the narrowest of misses.
In the 76th minute, however, Sporting's Aurelien Collin did not miss. The 27-year-old defender netted a header off a corner. This time, it was the home's side chance to have a little sideline celebration:
There was not another serious threat on goal for the remainder of regulation time, and with that, the two needed extra time to determine the winner of the 2013 MLS Cup:
Just minutes into extra time, we had the rarest of sightings: a Graham Zusi shot on goal. Were it not for an excellent play by Rimando, it would have been a scoring shot:
Around the 15-minute mark of extra time, Saborio netted a header. It was all for naught, though. Saborio was ruled to be offside.
The remainder of extra time was rather dull, which played right into Real Salt Lake's hands. Rimando is known for past heroic performances in shootouts and is arguably the greatest penalties goalkeeper in the history of MLS.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Nielsen had not been looking all that fluid in goal for Sporting throughout the match. It might have been the biting cold, but the 36-year-old was looking every bit his age.
Apparently, none of that mattered.
Saborio was the first to kick for RSL, and he missed wide right. Ned Grabavoy took the second shot. Nielsen guessed right and turned it away. With Sporting drilling their first two shots, KC was in firm control.
Sporting had to make just two of their remaining three penalties to guarantee victory. Rimando saved one and Zusi just flat-out missed his shot. With RSL confidently drilling their remaining three shots, even more extra play was needed to determine a champion.
On their third extra attempt, Lawrence Olum hit a rather weak effort wide left, which gave RSL a shot to net a penalty and win the Cup. Neilsen wasn't having it. He stopped the effort of Sebastian Velasquez.
In the 10th round of kicks, Lovel Palmer needed to net a goal to keep RSL alive. He hit one down the middle that clanked off the crossbar and away from the goal. With that, Sporting Kansas City took the win and the Cup.
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