KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City finally had a Designated Player come up big in the postseason, and New England's late-season run is finally over.
Claudio Bieler hadn't scored since a penalty kick against Columbus on Sept. 7, and hadn't found the net during the run of play since July 13 against hapless Toronto FC. But in the 113th minute against the Revolution on Wednesday night, in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Argentinian forward – who came on as a late sub – buried the series-winner off a cross from Benny Feilhaber.
Second-seeded Sporting took the home leg 3-1, the aggregate 4-3, and will visit postseason nemesis Houston on Saturday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship.
Third-seeded New England needed only a draw to advance, and Dimitry Imbongo's set-piece header in the 70th minute pulled Wednesday's leg to 1-1 and put the Revolution up 3-2 on aggregate. But Sporting left back Seth Sinovic responded in the 79th with an improbable far-post blast after Graham Zusi's headed flick-on, sending the series to a 30-minute overtime on Sporting's 2-1 advantage through 90.
It was only the second goal of Sinovic's professional career, the first coming in last year's home leg of Sporting's eventual semifinal elimination against Houston.
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Sporting came in trailing 2-1 on the aggregate, but Aurélien Collin pulled the second-seeded hosts even by being in the right place at the right time after Matt Reis had made three saves through most of the first half.
In the 42nd minute, Dom Dwyer's shot went off defender Andrew Farrell and fell into empty space right in front of the goal. Collin raced in unmarked and buried the ball off the inside of Reis' left post.
The goal capped an aggressive, hard-pressing first half for Kansas City, who outshot the Revs 11-2 before the break – and two of Sporting's most high-energy players, both midfielders, hadn't been in the XI for quite some time.
Feilhaber made his first start since Sept. 27, while Paulo Nagamura was coming off a nagging ankle injury that had sidelined him since Sept. 7. Both of them played through regulation, and Nagamura nearly delivered a late series-winner before being lifted for Soony Saad early in extratime.
Sporting continued to press the attack after the half and nearly doubled their second-leg lead in the 55th minute, but Reis made back-to-back saves on Dwyer and Feilhaber to keep the series even.
After Imbongo's goal and Sinovic's response, New England mounted a dangerous counterattack in the 85th minute, only to see Diego Fagundez shoot high. Nagamura had a chance to end the proceedings early in second-half stoppage time, but his low shot went just left of Reis' goal.
New England withstood Sporting's barrage through the first 15 minutes of extra time and nearly went up in the 110th minute, but Jimmy Nielsen stoned Juan Agudelo on a breakaway in front of goal to defuse the threat.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Graham Zusi||A terror on the flanks when New England got stretched out. Was a key cog in the attack and picked up an assist to show for it|
|2||Matt Reis||If this was his final game, it was a heck of a way to go out. Made seven stops on the night, including two for the highlight reel, and can hardly be faulted on the goals|
|3||Benny Feilhaber||This was what we expected from Benny in the SKC system. Made the midfield tick and had a great steal and assist to set up the winner|