Sporting KC wins MLS Cup title
Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City delivered the sort of gritty spectacle everyone expected from the coldest MLS Cup in history. They dragged the match into extra time after a 1-1 draw during a compelling 90 minutes and served up a finish for the ages to ensure Sporting claimed its second title in staggering fashion.
The two teams needed 10 rounds to end the deadlock created by the goals from Alvaro Saborio’s opener after 52 minutes and Aurelien Collin’s equalizer in the final quarter of an hour. Real Salt Lake missed its first two penalties, but it fought back with the help of a miss from Graham Zusi to extend the shootout.
Each team possessed chances to win at that stage. Neither side converted during the eight round. It eventually came down to MLS Cup MVP Collin calmly depositing his effort into the right side of the net and then watching Lovel Palmer smack the underside of the crossbar to give Sporting its first MLS Cup triumph since 2000.
The early stages of this match offered few hints about the drama to unfold later in the day. Injuries and set pieces chopped up the flow of the game. Sporting even lost critical midfield piece and usual metronome Uri Rosell to a sprained left ankle inside the first 10 minutes.
The match started to hit its stride after the ragged opening period. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando parried away C.J. Sapong’s back post header after 25 minutes to thwart the first genuine chance in the match. Robbie Findley then hit the post four minutes later after Jimmy Nielsen awkwardly punched Chris Wingert’s tempting diagonal toward the back post instead of away from danger.
Findley’s chance marked a transition in the match with RSL increasingly locating space in good areas. The usual cadence in possession never arrived given the slippery surface, but the visitors asserted themselves on the ball and started to carve out openings. Saborio headed wide from a difficult position before the break to nearly enshrine that advantage on the scoreboard heading into the interval.
Saborio eventually broke through seven minutes after play resumed to complete a deft and technical move. Collin conceded possession to provide RSL with an enticing opening. Luis Gil connected quickly with Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman then clipped a sumptuous, no-look feed for Saborio to corral and thump home in one fluid movement.
RSL’s precise opener encouraged Sporting to pursue the game more ardently and take chances with the positioning of its fullbacks. The visitors responded by playing quickly down the left to free Findley behind the Sporting line. Findley nearly drew a second yellow on Collin on the counter and then prompted the potential second by riding the line perfectly. Findley raced free and switched to Morales on the right. Morales danced around his marker and lifted his effort over the stranded Nielsen only to see it hit the inside of the far post and roll along the goal line before the peril.
The inability to snatch a second goal proved costly when Collin equalized after 76 minutes. Graham Zusi delivered an inviting ball from the right corner toward the back post. Collin made his run from the top of the penalty area with Chris Schuler in tow and warded off his central defensive counterpart to bring his side level inside the final quarter of an hour.
Collin’s intervention spurred both teams to search prudently for the potential winner. Second-half substitute Claudio Bieler somehow drove his effort well over the bar from 10 yards after good work from Zusi and Seth Sinovic to create the chance. RSL looked the more likely of the two sides to snatch it. Saborio forced Sinovic into a sliding lunge to block his effort on the right side of the penalty area before Sporting recovered in time to snuff out Ned Grabavoy’s breakaway to send the match into extra time.
Sporting grasped the initiative when the match resumed and pinned RSL back inside its own half. Rimando somehow produced a stunning save to push Zusi’s close-range effort over the bar three minutes into the additional time. Sapong spurned yet another chance from a Bieler knockdown nine minutes later before Saborio watched his header correctly ruled out for offside shortly before the teams switched ends.
Both teams struggled to generate opportunities once play resumed. The final whistle from Hilario Grajeda condemned the teams to spot kicks to decide the match. The drama stretched all the way into round 10 before reaching its stunning apex.
Collin placed his effort into the far side netting to once again shift the pressure back to RSL. Palmer then smashed his effort off the underside of the crossbar to decide the match and settle this gripping final with wild celebrations from Sporting in its home ground.