Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sporting Kansas City staves off playoff disappointment, advances to the next round

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 11:46 PM

click to enlarge Sporting: survive and advance
  • Sporting: survive and advance
Benny Feilhaber came to Sporting Kansas City this season after the hyped-up midfielder failed to live up to expectations last year with the New England Revolution. But Feilhaber would play an easy-to-miss yet critical part in sending his old mates on their way to golf tee times while Sporting Kansas City moves along in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

Sporting Kansas City defeated New England in a tense overtime game Wednesday evening at Sporting Park, beating the Revolution in a two-game playoff by an aggregate score of 4-3.

Feilhaber will go down as the quiet, unsung hero of Wednesday's match. Guys like Claudio Bieler and Seth Sinovic will get the plaudits for scoring goals at critical junctures of the game. But it was an alert move late in the game by Feilhaber against his old team that set up the game-winning goal for Kansas City.

Late in the second overtime period, Feilhaber spotted a clumsy throw by New England goalkeeper Matt Reis to the left side of the field. Reis was trying to catch Sporting out of position by linking up with New England forward Diego Fagundez. Feilhaber disrupted the ill-advised pass, took the ball down the side of the field and sent a lovely cross to striker Bieler for an easy goal.

Bieler's goal put Kansas City ahead 4-3 when you add the score up from both games with just seven minutes left in overtime. New England mustered up some effort in trying to tie up the game with only a few minutes to go, but it didn't go far.

Fans danced and boogied in the stands, celebrating their team's playoff triumph. But they weren't jamming earlier in the game when it looked like New England was going to send Kansas City to another playoff disappointment. It looked grim for Kansas City in the 70th minute of the 90-minute game when New England's Dimitry Imbongo broke the tie with a close goal that Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen perhaps should have saved.

Some national MLS commentators predicted a New England upset of Kansas City, and the Revolution were plucky enough to maybe pull it off. The Revolution had several leads against Kansas City during the two-game playoff but had a nasty habit of retreating to an overly defensive style of play to try and preserve its narrow advantage. New England's defense wasn't good enough to cap off an ambitious attack by Kansas City, led in no small way by Graham Zusi. Zusi is perhaps MLS' best player, and it showed on Wednesday as he bird-dogged Kansas City's offense with deft, intelligent passing in the midfield and offense.

It was Zusi who set up Sinovic for a late, game-tying goal in the 79th minute to send the game to overtime. Zusi nodded a header Sinovic's way on the left side of the field. Zusi connected with Sinovic, a defenseman who rarely scores, who took a few steps toward the goal and blasted one past New England's keeper.

It was Sinovic's second career goal; both have come in playoff games.

Peter Vermes, the typically stern coach for Sporting Kansas City, seemed delighted afterward.

"We outplayed them tonight from the beginning of the game all the way to the end," Vermes told reporters. "We were fantastic."

They'll need to be fantastic again when they play the Houston Dynamo in the next round of the playoffs. Houston is an unheralded sports story in North America, a team with an incredible knack the last two years of limping into the playoffs, only to dethrone the best teams in MLS' Eastern Conference on its way to  consecutive MLS championship game appearances. Houston beat the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, knocking out the team that finished with the best record in MLS in 2013.

Sporting Kansas City knows well how New York is feeling. Houston has rousted a heavily favored Kansas City team twice from the playoffs the last two years.

The two teams meet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Houston for the first match of a two-game playoff series.

"Here we are again," Vermes said of the upcoming tilt against Houston. "They're a very good team. They always turn it on at the end of the season. One of the difficulties they provide late in the season here is, we have a very short turnaround here and we're going into some difficult weather."

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