Best and Worst from the 2013 MLS Cup Final
The best action of the 2013 MLS Cup final was highlighted by Jimmy Nielsen and Kyle Beckerman, but what about the worst?
Plenty of candidates met the criteria in Sporting Kansas City's shootout victory over Real Salt Lake. Mother Nature intervened. Referee Hilario Grajeda continued the farcical trend of poor officiating in MLS. Both clubs failed to deliver the quality of play worthy of a cup final.
Read on for all the beautiful and painful details.
Best: No-Look Pass and a Quality Finish
The chip. The touch. The finish.
For at least 10 seconds, RSL displayed the quality of play synonymous with the club since 2008. Kyle Beckerman didn't just chip a picture-perfect pass to Alvaro Saborio, he did it without looking.
Beckerman's world-class chip was met by the deftest of touches from Saborio. The Costa Rican played the ball into space and left zero doubts with his finish. Even with a healthy set of ribs—more on that later—goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen would have had difficulties denying the 31-year-old.
Unfortunately for the club, it wasn't enough to seal a second MLS Cup title.
But in a match devoid of quality moments, it stood out enough to please even the most vehement of MLS critics.
Worst: Cheap Thrills Overshadow Lack of Quality
Don't let the cheap drama of extra time and penalty kicks blind you.
This was far from an aesthetic classic.
What Saturday's exciting finished overshadowed was 120 minutes of tough, physical and listless possession that only waned as both clubs penetrated the final third of the pitch. As Opta Sports points out, RSL's 67.3 percent passing accuracy was the club's lowest since 2010. SKC didn't fare much better at 71 percent.
Those percentages dipped to roughly 59 percent for both clubs in the attacking half.
The finishing was even worse.
Each of the match's three big chances were painfully missed. Eight of Kansas City's shots were blocked. Only two of RSL's 12 shots managed to land on target. The club managed to hit the post more often than that. The fourth and final woodwork in penalty kicks sealed RSL's fate.
And then there was the fouls.
Forty times referee Hilario Grajeda had to stop play due to the opposition's recklessness, and five different players were cautioned. Obviously, the frigid conditions and slippery terrain played its part. Icy footing led to some comical gaffes, slips and goal kicks.
But the conditions don't free the cup final from the criticism it deserves. Especially when the words "epic" and "classic" are romantically being thrown around to describe a match that was marred in unwatchable play for a majority of the 120 minutes.
A classic finish doesn't make for a classic match. A sense of quality is of the utmost importance to earn that title.
Unless, of course, cheap thrills are your thing.
Best: The Injured White Puma
The jokes were running rampant on Twitter.
Father time appeared to have caught up with goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Come to find out, the 36-year-old battled for 120 minutes with a recurring rib injury. Shaky at first, Nielsen showcased every bit of his shot-stopping ability when it mattered most. RSL were one Sebastian Velasquez penalty kick away from lifting the 2013 MLS Cup.
But the man they call the "White Puma" was having none of that.
Nielsen's denial helped propel SKC to victory.
According to Andrew Wiebe on MLS' official website, it was a moment four years in the making:
Four years ago when I came here, I wanted to be champion again. Of course, I know I'm not playing another 10 years. This here is a big moment, it's a proud moment.
Nielsen took it upon himself to christen Sporting Park with some championship graffiti of his own.
A bit neater next time though, Jimmy.
But given the broken ribs and celebratory circumstances, we'll let it slide.
Worst: The Turning Point of the 2013 MLS Cup
This is the MLS Referee of the Year? This is the best the league has to offer?
You can thank referee Hilario Grajeda and his passive officiating for the physical tone set in the MLS Cup final. Even with the ridiculous amount of fouls (40), the 46-year-old clearly let both clubs "play." But of the five yellow cards he handed out on Saturday, it was the one Grajeda didn't award that played a role in SKC's shootout victory.
Just ask Aurelien Collin.
No player was cautioned more in 2013 than the SKC defender. On 13 different occasions, the Frenchman was booked for his physical play. He lived up to that reputation once more on Saturday.
After escaping a foul in the 23rd minute with his charge from behind on Robbie Findley, Collin failed to escape being cautioned in the 35th minute. He was warned. One more reckless challenge and he would surely be given his marching orders.
That moment came in the 69th minute.
Findley's dribble put him in a prime position to create a scoring chance for Real Salt Lake, but Collin was there to ensure he didn't. A lost challenge turned into a surefire foul. A second yellow was the deserved and correct call.
It wasn't given.
Not only was Collin allowed to stay on the pitch, but he would equalize six minutes later. He would then score the final penalty kick that clinched Kansas City's second-ever MLS Cup title. To complete the black-eyed trifecta, Collin would be awarded the MLS Cup MVP.
Now, this is not to say that Grajeda gifted SKC the MLS Cup title. There is no way to tell how a 10-manned club at home would've responded. The argument here is simple: All of Collin's "achievements" should've never transpired.
Grajeda's poor judgement was the turning point of the 2013 MLS Cup final.
As Simon Borg reports on MLS' official website, even Findley was aware the Frenchman had no business being on the pitch:
We were expecting it. We knew they were going to come and hit us hard and be physical up top...I definitely thought it was a second yellow. It's the decision [the referee] made, and I can't really do anything about it. We know there were going to be calls that were going their way.
Some will argue that Grajeda was justified in not booking Collin a second time. By pocketing his card, he correctly chose not to impact the match. Somehow, making the obvious and correct call would've tainted a cup final.
Collin equalized. Collin clinched. Collin was awarded the MVP.
You can't taint a cup final any more than that.
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