Sporting Kansas City 2011
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Sporting Kansas City
In one short season, Sporting Kansas City went from playing in a minor league baseball stadium one of the darlings of MLS. At the forefront of those efforts was Livestrong Sporting Park, which set a new standard for soccer-specific stadiums in North America.
For a few months, though, it seemed like that part of the equation was not in the cards. Kansas City survived what can only be described as a disastrous start before putting together a run that saw them finish at the top of the Eastern Conference table, as remarkable a feat as any in MLS in 2011.
Sporting took the Eastern Conference title, posting an impressive record of 13-9-12, after recovering from that poor start. The young dynamic trio of Teal Bunbury, Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong transformed SKC into an attacking powerhouse.
Their forward line produced 32 goals, and took advantage of a home-heavy schedule over the second half of the season to make it to the brink of MLS Cup. Unfortunately, Sporting ran into a Houston Dynamo side as hot as they were in the Eastern Conference Championship, bowing out two weeks before they had hoped.
June 9 is a date that will go down in club history. The very first match at Livestrong Sporting Park may have ended as an unspectacular scoreless draw, but it marked a landmark moment in club history, as the team’s new home opened to rave reviews after years of playing in borrowed facilities. Kansas City finally had a stadium to call their own.
A major low-point of the season came early on, as Sporting struggled to adapt to playing so many road games prior to their new stadium opening it’s doors. Already stuck in last place and facing the prospect of waiting another month for LSP to open, Kansas City took an improbable 1-0 lead against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on May 14. That advantage was short-lived, however. By the time David Beckham got done putting the finishing touches on a 4-1 LA victory with a signature free kick into the top corner, Sporting were 1-5-1 and the playoffs seemed a long way off.
Kei Kamara takes the honor of goal of the season, for his acrobatic scissor kick to open the scoring against Toronto FC at Livestrong Sporting Park on July 23. The combination of anticipation, athleticism and technical perfection make Kamara’s strike impossible to resist.
Veteran shot-stopper Jimmy Nielsen proved his worth yet again for Sporting, having a very solid season marshaling the Kansas City backline. Nielsen considers himself somewhat of an unconventional goalkeeper, so it’s no surprise Kansas City’s save of the year is distinctly different. On Aug. 6 when Nielsen pulled off a spectacular double-stop on Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle, punctuated by a lunging kick save with his left foot that denied Neagle a sure equalizer.
Nielsen’s steady presence as both organizer and reliable shot-stopper makes him the clear choice for Sporting MVP. Without the veteran’s timely saves, calming demeanor and ability to keep a young defense on the same page, Kansas City would have been scrambling to stay within striking distance of the playoff race let alone finishing atop the Eastern Conference.