Sporting Kansas City beat Real Salt Lake in penalties on Saturday night to claim the 2013 MLS Cup title.
After 90 minutes of regulation, 30 minutes of extra time and two nice goals from Alvaro Saborio and Aurelien Collin, Sporting managed to edge RSL 7-6 after 10 rounds of penalties.
Here are six thoughts from the game.
While the freezing cold in Kansas City was certainly no picnic for the players, coaches or fans, the environment was terrific. In addition to the normally raucous crowd of Sporting fans, a large contingent made the trip from Utah to support RSL.
Both sets of fans were loud, chanting vociferously and banging their respective drums.
It makes one wonder why MLS ever thought holding the final in a neutral venue—something it did from the league's inception through 2011—was ever a good idea.
Over 120 minutes, the game featured 40 fouls, 16 of which came in the first 45 minutes alone.
Right from the get-go, the game took on a competitive flair as these two MLS giants battled for the championship.
Some of the more notable incidents were the three nasty fouls by Aurelien Collin on Robbie Findley—only one of which was punished by a yellow card—Benny Feilhaber being taken down hard by Alvaro Saborio (Feilhaber made the most of it after the first foul) and Kyle Beckerman being pushed down twice in one sequence in the first five minutes.
The game finished with five yellow cards.
For 120 minutes, veteran goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who is usually one of MLS' top goalkeepers, was abysmal. Whether it was the cold weather in Kansas City, his age or the combination of the two, Nielsen looked completely uncomfortable through two halves of soccer and two extra-time periods.
His swat at the ball in the 29th minute left Findley wide-open on the back post for an empty-netter which somehow Findley put off the post.
On services into his area all game long, Nielsen struggled judging the ball, he lost possession out of the back and was beaten on a header by Saborio for what appeared to be the game-winner in the 104th minute (it was called back for being offsides).
However, in the shootout, Nielsen was huge for Sporting KC, saving two penalties and helping lead them to the title.
Nielsen's performance aside, it was an outstanding performance by both defenses.
For Real Salt Lake, their defense stymied an attack led by some of MLS' best attacking personalities. Graham Zusi led attack after attack into Real Salt Lake's defensive third but was only able to create one goal on Collin's header. RSL also shut down Feilhaber, whose performance in the Eastern Conference final was widely lauded.
Nick Rimando was excellent all game long, parrying away excellent chances by Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong in the first half and topped it all off with a fantastic save on a Zusi effort three minutes into extra time. Nat Borchers stopped a first-half bicycle kick attempt by Dwyer with his face, and Chris Schuler knocked service after service away.
Additionally, Chris Wingert had a game-saving clearance on the back post in the 62nd minute, sacrificing his body on the block in such fashion that he had to be removed from the game shortly thereafter.
Although Sporting Kansas City was not under as much pressure in the game, they were strong when they needed to be. Seth Sinovic had a game-saving recovery run when he stuffed a breakaway by Ned Grabavoy in the 87th minute. Then, in the final minutes of extra time, Sporting center-back Matt Besler made a game-saving header in front of Saborio who was lurking in front of Sporting KC's net.
In the 52nd minute, with the game deadlocked after a cagey first 45, Saborio opened the scoring with a brilliant strike.
RSL beat the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference finals without Saborio, who was injured, and the excellent play of his replacement, Devon Sandoval, against Portland, was seemingly going to leave RSL head coach Jason Kreis with a selection headache.
However, Sandoval ended up injured himself, and Saborio made the most (excluding his miss in the penalty shootout) of his return to the lineup.
On the play, Collin knocked away a pass that was collected by Kyle Beckerman and put back in to Saborio with a perfect chip. Saborio collected the pass beautifully and fired his shot past Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen for the opening goal.
Sporting Kansas City is one of the premier franchises in Major League Soccer and a worthy champion. They have one of the best venues, best fanbases, best coaches and a roster full of top-class MLS players.
They play an entertaining style and are one of the few MLS franchises who manage to play something other than the standard 4-4-2. Although they won the Eastern Conference in 2011 and 2012, they flamed out in the playoffs both years.
This is the first title for Sporting (although they did win the MLS Cup 13 years ago as the Kansas City Wizards), and they deserve it.
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