When we here at MLSsoccer.com closed up the ranks to vote on the Best of 2012 awards, we knew we couldn't due the series justice without opening up the biggest award to the fans. So we left the Moment of the Year up to the voters and, after two weeks of voting and 20 different memorable moments from the year that was, we have a winner.
New media editor Andrew Wiebe breaks down what fans voted as the Moment of the Year: Sporting Kansas City's win over the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup. Nearly 27 percent of the the fans who voted cast their ballot for the USOC final, comfortably topping the return of Seattle's Steve Zakauni (21 percent) and the Sounders-Timbers match in October that drew more than 67,000 fans to CenturyLink Field (20 percent). Other nominees included the MLS All-Stars' win over Chelsea and Chris Wondolowski's MLS record-tying 27th goal in the regular-season finale.
From a neutral perspective, it was the best the bracket could churn out: two of MLS’ brightest with a history of last-gasp finishes butting heads for the right to lift the Lamar Hunt trophy underneath a confetti shower.
The Seattle Sounders were out of their comfort zone, playing for the cup on the road in a hostile environment that mirrored their own back home. Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City, clearly the dominant team in the East, were looking for some silverware to fully cement their rise from league afterthought to MLS 2.0 case study.
And although the game itself didn’t exactly demand a place in the history books – eight shots on target, 35 fouls and no goals through 84 minutes – the late-arriving drama in the final minutes of regulation and the ensuing penalty-kick shootout more than made up for any dour moments.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the US Open Cup final between Kansas City and Seattle is 2012’s Moment of the Year. Via an online vote, the fans made their voices heard, just as they did on August 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park in a memorable final that ended the Sounders’ hopes for a four-peat and allowed Sporting KC to paint the wall for the first time under their new moniker.
Before the game even started, however, the enormity of the occasion was reinforced by two of the league’s most passionate fanbases going tit for tat in a thunderstorm that soaked those in the stands and delayed the game by 45 minutes. And when the teams finally came out for their final preparations, a picturesque scene awaited them, a rainbow spanning the LSP roof with history just minutes from being made.
Of course, the game started slowly, with neither team truly capable to breaking down the other as two of MLS’ best defenses kept play bogged down in the midfield. Eddie Johnson was a terror in his return to Kansas City and Kei Kamara had a deflected shot slam off the crossbar, but chances were slow in coming – that is until a wild final five minutes that saw the game’s only regulation goals.
The first came when Teal Bunbury’s cross deflected off Seattle defender Zach Scott’s arm in the 84th minute, forcing referee Ricardo Salazar to award a PK that Kamara dutifully stroked home. Just two minute later, though, Scott exacted payback, nodding Mauro Rosales’ free kick inside the post to send the game to extratime.
And while neither team could muster much of anything in the 30-minute, winner-take-all period, the shootout that followed remained in the news cycle days after it had concluded.
Through five attempts, the teams were locked at 2-2, with Seattle just an Osvaldo Alonso conversion away from taking control with two chances left for either side.
But Alonso sent his attempt into orbit after some mind games from SKC ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen. Then Graham Zusi’s audacious chip missed the frame as well, and Nielsen dove to push away Christian Tiffert’s weak effort, setting the stage for Paulo Nagamura and Eddie Johnson to decide matters.
Nagamura, perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the occasion, couldn’t beat Gspurning (right), as the Seattle netminder dove to his left to give the Sounders an advantage it appeared would seal their fourth straight title. Of course, appearances are often deceiving, and Salazar immediately called for the kick to be re-taken, with the Austrian judged to have left his line early.
In dramatic fashion, the Brazilian placed the ball on the spot for a second time and began his approach. This time, though, the ball found its way into the back of the net, shifting the pressure to Johnson.
It was simply too much. With Nielsen once again doing his best to crack the former Kansas City striker’s concentration, Johnson nearly sent his attempt out of the stadium, igniting wild celebrations on the field and in the stands as Sporting took home the first trophy of 2012.
Fair result? The Sounders certainly didn’t think so, but the trophy stayed in Kansas City, Nielsen painted the wall and another MLS rivalry saw even more fuel added to an already flourishing fire.
The 2012 Moment of the Year? With the help of 18,863 fans in Kansas City, no doubt.