Sporting Crowned MLS Cup Champions

Jimmy Nielsen came up big in penalties, erasing a forgettable performance in the previous 120 minutes
by Skylar Rolstad   |   Monday, December 09, 2013

John Hefti Photography - SKC, Sporting KC

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City’s 2013 campaign was anything but orthodox, but it’s all over now and for the second consecutive year the team will add to its trophy cabinet.

That’s because Sporting KC, in front of more than 21,000 fans checkered in sky and midnight blue attire, slayed Real Salt Lake, 1-1 (6-7 PKs). In a magic game where anything could (and did) happen, only Kansas City proved strong enough to earn the victory.

As confetti poured onto the field at Sporting Park, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi hoisted their new silverware in front of the Cauldron, showing yet another accolade to add to both players’ shining resumes. It was a night to thank the soccer gods for Sporting KC, as another playoff game went into extra time, and Kansas City counted themselves lucky several times against a team very much their equal.

Braving 10-degree temperatures and hard, frozen field, 2 of the most physical teams in the league squared off on Saturday. Sporting gained an advantage early, but were quickly pushed back on their heels when Uri Rosell was lost to injury in the 8th minute. Rosell was replaced by Lawrence Olum and was said to be healthy again in 5 to 7 weeks. The first half ended rather uneventfully except for an amazing save by Nick Rimando of CJ Sapong’s header at the back post in the 24th minute. Four minutes later SKC defender Seth Sinovic knocked the ball off of his team’s own goal line from a Robbie Findley shot that ensued from a botched punch out by Jimmy Nielsen.

Somehow, Nielsen survived 120 minutes on Saturday. The Danish goalkeeper looked completely out of his element in the cold conditions and looked every bit like conceding a goal, especially when Javier Morales found an open shot in the 73rd minute that hit the inside of the post and bounced fortuitously out of play for a goal kick. It would be found out after the game that Nielsen was playing with broken ribs.

This year’s MLS Cup final could not have been more evenly matched. As I wrote last week, both teams are one in the same: small-market, passionately supported and possession-oriented. The cold weather seemed to break down the focus on passing for both teams as the ball quickly found the flanks and could not be easily knocked through the middle of the field. The match proved to be one of the most physical we have seen from Sporting this season. MLS Cup MVP Aurelien Collin almost did not have the chance to bring Sporting to victory with a foul that surely looked like a second yellow card midway through the second half. Extra time still was not enough to find a difference between the two teams. As penalties loomed, Sporting seemed relieved to have not conceded a second time.

Penalties were, as always, a tense ordeal. Sporting jumped ahead early with a 2-0 lead on penalties but subsequently blew the lead with misses from Besler and Zusi. Lawrence Olum set up Sebastian Velasquez to win the Cup with a miss wide left, but Nielsen saved Velasquez’s kick spectacularly. Aurelien Collin then took the first penalty of his career and hit the right of the net. In the postgame press conference, Collin said this was the first penalty of his career, adding “hopefully it was the last one.”

Lovel Palmer hit the bar to end the match, and the trophy belonged to Sporting Kansas City. It was a fitting ending to a season that somehow materialized into glory. Sporting had already completed a quest that had been in the making since new ownership took over in 2006. This season saw Benny Feilhaber go from promising new signing to awful disappointment to star midfielder, Dom Dwyer go from afterthought to minor-league superstar to first-choice striker, and SKC manager Peter Vermes go from mastermind to inadequate and back.

In only 3 months, Sporting will begin their 2014 campaign. On March 8, 2014, SKC will travel to Seattle to begin the season. Of course, these 3 months will be almost as, if not more, eventful than the season itself. Rumors have already surfaced of Dom Dwyer moving to an English Championship team and there are more departures, re-signings, and trades to be made.

NEXT UP: March 8 – Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, CenturyLink Field, Seattle. 3 p.m. EST, NBCSN


Univ. of Kansas
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
AC Milan
A student at the University of Kansas. He writes for the Sporting Kansas City club column for Soccer Newsday and is a regular at Sporting Park. His passion for soccer can best be described as unhealthy.