KANSAS CITY, Kan. – All things considered, it felt a little bit like fate.
Livestrong Sporting Park was packed to the gills, a record 20,839 fans occupying every last open square foot. Sporting Kansas City were unbeaten in seven, riding a wave of confidence to within one victory of MLS Cup.
And when Brad Davis, Houston’s midfield talisman, was forced off 40 minutes into the game with an injury, it seemed the stars had officially aligned.
But sometimes fate is fickle. And in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be for Kansas City.
Instead of turning yet another page in their storybook season, it was the Dynamo who ended the night with the Eastern Conference Championship trophy held aloft and confetti swirling around them.
“It hurts,” Davy Arnaud told reporters after the match. “We wanted that to be us, obviously. We pictured it. We all dreamed about that last night.”
Unfortunately for Kansas City, that dream never really showed any signs of materializing.
Houston were simply the better team on the night, forming an impenetrable wall in front of Tally Hall and choosing the right moments to throw numbers forward to expose the holes in Kansas City’s back line.
Sporting’s youth – both a blessing and a curse this season – showed from the start. They overextended themselves during a back-and-forth first half that saw the Dynamo come up just short on a trio of chances and never found a rhythm in possession or on the attack the rest of the way.
“We did everything to get ourselves in this position,” manager Peter Vermes said in the postgame press conference, “but maybe just a little bit too young still with the group that we have.”
And despite having the opportunity to win it with an inspired second 45 minutes, Kansas City conceded early and experienced nothing but disappointment from there.
Andre Hainault scored eight minutes into the half from – what else? – a set piece, and Carlo Costly iced the game a few minutes from time, leaving Kansas City to wonder what might have been against a team they had defeated in two of three meeting this season, the most recent a 3-0 shellacking at LSP in September.
“It wasn’t our night,” Matt Besler said. “The balls weren’t bouncing our way. Part of that is Houston. They made it tough.”
And almost as tough as the defeat itself was the fact that Sporting sent their pulsating legion of fans home without something to hold onto, the same supporters who sung until the final whistle in support of the team they’ve come to love over the course of an up-and-down season.
“We definitely wanted to finish the season off with something good for the city,” Kei Kamara said.
Of course, that didn’t happen, but it doesn’t negate everything Kansas City has accomplished this season.
Vermes has put together a promising young core, Omar Bravo is under contract for another year and ownership is committed to investing whatever it takes to keep the club pushing toward MLS Cup.
Everything they do will be in the pursuit of getting back to this stage. Only next time, the hope is that Sporting will be the ones lifting silverware at the end of the night.
“It’s disappointing,” Arnaud said, “but we’ve got to look at it and put it in our back pocket and remember that for the next time we get an opportunity like this. With this team and this organization, I think we’ll be here again.”
Maybe fate will be more kind the next time around.