4 Questions About SKC's Winning Season

The MLS Cup trophy was the proper gift Sporting KC could have received
by Katherine Rupp   |   Wednesday, December 11, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Sporting KC, MLS

Christmas came early for Sporting Kansas City as they received the best present any MLS team wants: the MLS Cup.

With some luck on their side – mainly the posts and crossbar – and a little bit of gutsiness in their play, Sporting KC hoisted their second MLS Cup, this one on Dec. 7, 2013, 13 years after their first in 2000.

What made the difference?

So what was the difference between this year’s team and the others that have come before that had not succeeded to the fullest extent of winning the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy?

One could say it was the way the midfield dominated, and though that was somewhat true, the Real Salt Lake midfield was boss at times during the MLS Final. It might have also been the set piece delivery. Although that is how Sporting Kansas City equalized (on an Aurelien Collin header, courtesy of a Graham Zusi corner), set pieces didn’t have the same effect as usual until later in the match.

The true difference was the players.

It may sound cliché but the men in blue, who came from behind yet again as they had during the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Finals, had the heart and the gumption to finish as the victors after 10 rounds of penalty kicks.

In addition, having had the home crowd and especially the main supporters group, the Kansas City Cauldron, behind the keepers for penalty kicks, added to the atmosphere and the emotions of those who support SKC.

What went right?

Cold, snow, and wind usually do not help soccer. In fact, the weather didn’t help during the Final, but no matter how both teams moved slower and the ball lumbered across the pitch, SKC and RSL played as hard-fought – and chippy – match as expected.

Although some might have been skeptical that the spitfire sub in Soony Saad didn’t make the game day roster, the offensive power for Sporting ended up making a large difference. With Zusi, Dwyer, and Sapong deployed up top and Nagamura, Rosell (who was subbed out because of an injury for Lawrence Olum in the 8th minute), and Feilhaber in the midfield, there was a lot of movement and strength in numbers when pushing forward.

Real Salt Lake showed up for this Final, though, and couldn’t be counted out until Sebastian Velasquez had his kick saved and Lovel Palmer’s hit the crossbar to seal the victory for KC. The 11 men in claret and cobalt had a handful of chances to finish out the match to win before overtime to take the title away from SKC, but as the script was seemingly already written, the home team ended up, after 10 rounds of PKs, with the MLS Cup.

Where to go from here?

Don’t think Sporting Kansas City players, coaches, and staff aren’t already thinking of the 2014 season. Yes, they – as do RSL – have a deserved break for the next few weeks, but over the offseason it’s expected to come up with ambitions for the next season.

Although Sporting KC can’t go up from here in MLS, they will aspire to maintain the level they were at this season and look to be repeat champions, as well as advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League. There will be aspects of the KC team that should be improved upon and tweaked, and there is bound to be some shifting with the roster. Any new or upcoming players on the team should assume they will come to SKC with expectations for receiving silverware again.

After reaching the pinnacle of MLS this year by receiving the MLS Cup, finishing first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season in 2011 and 2012, and winning the US Open Cup in 2012, Sporting Kansas City have the confidence to sustain and continue in their winning ways.

Who goes out on top?

Plain and simple, Jimmy Nielsen goes out on top.

After a 19-year career, 4 of which were played in Kansas City, Nielsen announced his retirement on Monday, Dec. 9. The White Puma, as he’s so affectionately known to Kansas City supporters, ends his career on the highest peak after captaining an MLS Cup winning team.

Although not the most nimble of goalkeepers – partially because of injured ribs but also exposed by the cold and bested by RSL’s Nick Rimando’s theatrical displays (especially during Zusi’s shot on goal in second overtime to tip the ball over the bar) – Nielsen was a career-long student of the game, knowing when to make his saves and when to let his defenders step up their game.

It's not official, but Nielsen almost assuredly will be playing a role in Sporting Kansas City in the future by, in some way, presumably having duties with the first team or youth in the SKC system.

Regardless of his future responsibilities for SKC, supporters of Sporting Kansas City can rest assure that as a player, Nielsen left everything on the field and will be remembered as a consummate professional and a Sporting legend.

NEXT UP: February 1 – Friendly: Sporting KC v. Portland Timbers, North Stadium at Kino Sports Complex, Tucson, Az. 8 p.m. EST, TBD.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.