Red-hot Sporting roll through Rapids, eager for East final
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The rain came down in sheets, more horizontal than vertical. A biting wind delivered temperatures hovering around freezing. None of that mattered.
On a chilly Wednesday night, a lively sellout crowd of 18,565 braved the conditions to watch Sporting Kansas City unceremoniously dump the defending champion Colorado Rapids by the playoff wayside by a score of 2-0 (4-0 on aggregate) at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Sporting are officially on their way to the Eastern Conference Championship, earning the opportunity to book their ticket to MLS Cup final in front of an ever-growing fanbase on Sunday against either Houston or Philadelphia.
“Tonight will be something that I never forget,” defender Matt Besler said. “I’m sure Sunday night is going to be the same thing. This team is kind of carving its own path and making history hopefully along the way.”
With the way Kansas City are playing, it’s getting harder and harder to deny this could very well be history in the making.
The weather may have been brutal and their opponents desperate, but Sporting’s lead never looked in danger as they recorded a second-straight 2-0 postseason victory and preserved their hard-earned homefield advantage in the process.
Graham Zusi delivered two pinpoint free kicks that Aurélien Collin and C.J. Sapong dutifully headed past Matt Pickens on either side of halftime, and Kansas City’s defense recorded its fourth-straight shutout to seal a convincing 4-0 aggregate win.
Now, they’re looking ahead to Sunday – 90 minutes away from a trip to Los Angeles.
“It’s been that hot team in the playoffs that usually makes a good run of it,” Zusi said. “That’s what we are right now. We’re a hot team, and we’re tough to beat right now.”
Hot might be an understatement. Sporting are now unbeaten in eight and have lost just three times in their last 28 matches, compiling a 14-3-11 record after the 1-6-1 start that relegated them to last place.
“You’re not in the postseason by luck, you’re in there because your record and your form suggests you’re a good team,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith said. “And this Kansas City team is a good team.”
Even Sporting manager Peter Vermes, who had been loath to admit his team had accomplished anything even as they made their run to the top of the East, said he told his team that although there is still work to do, they should feel like they’ve finally arrived.
“I think now you can say we’ve achieved something,” Vermes told reporters after the match.
Still, Vermes emphasized the real achievement would come should Sporting manage to knock off whoever advances in Thursday night’s Eastern Conference second leg between the Dynamo and the Union (8:30 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Kansas City haven’t lost to either side this season, taking four points from Houston – including a 3-0 victory at Livestrong Sporting Park on Sept. 10 – and drawing both matches with Philadelphia.
All Sporting can do for now, though, is wait.
“I wish we could fly whoever it is in tonight and play in the morning, honestly,” Davy Arnaud said. “We have a great feeling right now in the locker room. … I know that Sunday is going to be special, and it can’t get here soon enough.”