Sporting KC galvanized by Houston Dynamo's early goal in Eastern Conference Championship
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Nobody likes to have to come from behind in any competition, much less a knockout stage. Sporting Kansas City are getting pretty good at it in the MLS postseason, though.
First, they trailed New England 2-0 in the away leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, before pulling back a crucial road goal and then winning the home leg 3-1 in overtime to advance 4-3 on aggregate. Then, after earning a gritty scoreless draw at Houston two weeks ago in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, they found themselves looking at a 1-0 deficit when Oscar Boniek Garcia scored just three minutes into Saturday night's home leg at Sporting Park.
And just as they did against the Revs, Sporting mounted a successful comeback – this one capped by Dom Dwyer's ice-cold finish to give Kansas City a 2-1 victory – to move on to their first league final since 2004 after two straight years of being knocked out of the playoffs by the Dynamo.
“You come in after two weeks, and you think you did a good job in Houston to get a nil-nil, and in three minutes everything changes,” said midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on Dwyer's 63rd-minute game-winner. “Essentially, it's as though we lost 1-0 in Houston when they get a goal that early. Maybe it was a bit of a blessing in disguise. It kind of took all the nerves out of it. We knew we were down at that time and we had to go for it, and that's exactly what we did.”
It didn't take long, either, with C.J. Sapong pulling Sporting even in the 14th minute after Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell misplayed Feilhaber's through ball. Sapong pounced on the deflection and drove it into Tally Hall's net, right in front of the crammed, raucous Cauldron supporters section.
“Honestly, if anything, it’s easier when it’s in our stadium,” Sapong said. “When they scored that goal – not to say we weren’t awake – but it kind of put things in perspective for us. We knew we had to go get the game. I think we responded well. It was good for us and at the end of the day, it gave the fans a really good show.”
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Dwyer's game-winner gave Sporting their only aggregate lead in three years of postseason play against the Dynamo.. Houston won 2-0 at Sporting Park in a one-off East Championship in 2011, and took the opening leg 2-0 last season before Sporting pulled one back in the second leg.
But if the Dynamo's early score was reminiscent of that 2011 disappointment, Sporting manager Peter Vermes said in his postmatch news conference, his side' response was anything but.
“Three years ago, I think we were very new to this when we played them in the same situation,” Vermes said. “We were very new, in everything. I even think our fans were new to it. There was a lot of apprehension that year, but I think this year was very different. I think the players understood the task at hand. Even though they scored early, we never panicked.”