For those familiar with the roller coaster at World’s of Fun, this match was like the Mamba. It started high for Sporting KC, then dipped low, then went up and down until the end, which ended in an enjoyable way. Sporting KC defeated the New England Revolution 3-1 at home to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
The match saw the return of Paulo Nagamura, who has been absent for multiple months. His presence on the pitch was immense. With Nagamura in midfield, it allowed United States international Graham Zusi to move into the forward position, the spot he plays in with the national team.
As expected, Sporting KC came out and attacked heavily in the first half. Within the first five minutes Kansas City was attacking the New England goal. While Sporting was getting shots on goal, all of the shots were at New England goalkeeper Matt Reis. Sporting did very little to challenge the Revolution ‘keeper in the first part of the match.
Defender Aurelien Collin broke the deadlock in the 41st minute. Chance Myers played a deep ball into the New England goalbox. After a few deflections, the ball fall to Collin’s feet, who shot the ball off the post into the back of the New England goal. The first half would end with Sporting leading the game 1-0, but the aggregate tied 2-2.
The second half began with a bang, and almost a Sporting KC goal. Nagamura found himself open on the right side of the pitch, and played a ball back to the top of the box. Both Zusi and Dom Dwyer went for the pass, and Dwyer found himself on the end of the ball. But his shot was played too close to Reis, who made a comfortable save. If there is one narrative to take from this match, it is that Sporting KC needs to shoot the ball away from the opposing goalkeeper.
New England was able to equalize in the 69th minute. Kelyn Rowe played a great free kick into the Sporting KC box. Dimitry Imbongo was able to scissor kick the ball into the goal past Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. The game was tied 1-1, and if this result held, Sporting KC would be out of the playoffs.
Ten minutes later, Sporting found the goal to keep their playoff hopes alive. Collin played the ball forward, which found the head of Zusi. Zusi flicked the ball into the box. Left back Seth Sinovic was able to hit a great shot off the bounce past Reis to equalize in the aggregate. With the aggregate tied 3-3, the next goal would be decisive.
With regulation ending, Sporting KC looked to take the lead in extra time to avoid penalties. The hero of the match was Designated Player Claudio Bieler, who hadn’t started a match for Sporting KC since August.
The heroics would come in the 113th minute of the match. After a poor clearance by New England, Benny Feilhaber found himself open in the Revolution half. He played a great ball to Bieler, who slotted his first time shot past Reis. Sporting would go ahead 3-1 in the match, and 4-3 in the aggregate.
With the win, Sporting KC will play the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since Sporting KC finished ahead of Houston in the regular season, Kansas City will have home field advantage in the series. If Sporting KC is able to get past Houston and make it to the MLS Cup final, the championship would be played at Sporting Park.