Sporting Kansas City's Jon Kempin wasn't even supposed to be in the team's game Thursday night, much less in the first penalty kick shootout of his MLS career.
But after coming on for and injured Tim Melia in the second half of SKC's Knockout Round match against the Portland Timbers in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, the 21-year-old Homegrown 'keeper made three saves in the penalty stage. He would only be let down by misses from his own side, and eventually see his own last-ditch try swatted away at the end of an 11-round shootout marathon.
Despite that disappointing ending to his club's season–and Sporting's first shootout loss in four tries under manager Peter Vermes–Kempin drew nothing but praise from his team for his performance in a tough, chippy situation in front of a deafening crowd at Providence Park.
“He did great,” Vermes said of Kempin in a post-match news conference. “He did fantastic in the penalty-kick shootout. I thought he was calm and cool when he came in, in the last final minutes of the game. I also think that he gave us three chances to win it and we didn’t take advantage of that. He did a great job and he has nothing to be disappointed about or anything other than we lost.”
Sporting were down 1-0 when Melia came out in the 84th minute, about 15 minutes after a collision with the Timbers' Rodney Wallace, a foul that resulted in a yellow card for Portland's opening goal-scorer of the game.
“I’ve been there before, so I wasn’t too nervous,” said Kempin, of coming in late in a game, in time for penalty kicks. In fact his first career MLS save came on a penalty kick in Vancouver last season, in a match where he also came off the bench as an injury substitute.
“I have confidence in the team," he continued. "I knew we were a goal down, but I knew we’d get a goal or two and we did. Credit to them. Our guys played awesome and it’s just unlucky there at the end.”
“Unlucky” might not even begin to cover what happened to Kempin in the penalty kick stage, after the two sides traded goals in extra time and finished in a 2-2 deadlock after 120 minutes.
The Timbers' Jack Jewsbury shot high in the fourth round against his old club, but Sporting captain Matt Besler did the same thing with his answering chip. And after both sides made their fifth-round tries, the shootout went to sudden death, and things got even more wrenching for Sporting.
Kevin Ellis, whose 87th-minute goal tied the match at 1-1 and sent it to extra time, could have won it in the sixth round after Kempin stopped Portland's Jorge Villafaña. He put his low blast off the left post–but as it turned out, the woodwork was just getting warmed up.
In the ninth round, Kempin knocked away Alvas Powell's shot, setting up rookie right back Saad Abdul-Salaam for a shot at ending it. Instead, his attempt found the right post, rolled down the line, hit the left post and deflected harmlessly away.
Two rounds later, when all the field players had had their turns, Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey buried his shot and then denied Kempin.
Sporting's season was over.
“We've been on the other end of it quite a few times, and we understand what that's like,” said Vermes. His club, after all, has won all three of their trophies during his tenure–the 2013 MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup titles in 2012 and 2015–on penalties. “There's no doubt that we had chances. If you look at it, if everybody would have made it, we had three chances to win it. Unfortunately, we didn't. But that happens sometimes.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Twitter: @SteveBrisendine