KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The jinx is broken. So is the streak.
Sporting Kansas City are going to their first MLS Cup final since 2004, and the Houston Dynamo will sit out the title match for the first time in three years, after Dom Dwyer's 63rd-minute strike lifted Sporting to a 2-1 comeback victory on a frigid Saturday night in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship.
After the two teams played to a scoreless draw two weeks ago in the first leg in Houston, that one-goal margin was all Kansas City needed to put away the club that knocked them out in the 2011 East final and the Conference Semifinals last year – and threatened to do it again this year when Boniek Garcia scored for the visitors in the third minute.
But this time, Sporting rose to the challenge become the Eastern Conference champions – and now they will host the title match on Dec. 7 against either Real Salt Lake or Portland.
Anyone who expected a methodical, grind-it-out effort from both sides – especially with 20-degree temperatures at kickoff and the Dynamo playing without Will Bruin and Ricardo Clark due to injuries sustained two weeks ago in Houston – was proven wrong from the opening whistle.
And after a long pregame that whipped the stadium-record crowd of 21,650 into a frenzy of cheers and chants, it took less than three minutes for Garcia to stun all but the away supporters' section into silence.
Playoff Central Postgame: Breaking down SKC win
He shook free of left back Seth Sinovic, collected a Brad Davis pass and hit a shot that deflected off center back Matt Besler and into Jimmy Nielsen's net. Just like that, it seemed like a “Here we go again” kind of night for Sporting – especially after Dwyer couldn't convert Chance Myers' cross two yards from goal in the 8th minute.
But before the first quarter-hour was up, the Dynamo back line gifted one right back to the hosts.
It could have been 2-2 – at the least – after the first 45, but missed opportunities from both sides kept it even until Dwyer's decisive score.
Houston's Cam Weaver fired a sitter high and left from close range in the 30th, minute, and Kofi Sarkodie's tiny deflection of Dwyer's cross derailed Sapong's chance for a second goal in stoppage time. Sapong tripped trying to reach back for the ball and came off the field holding his right arm after the play, but was back on the pitch when the match resumed.
Clark's absence in the midfield gave Graham Zusi and Feilhaber plenty of room to roam and create, and they made the most of it – especially on Dwyer's winner, when an exchange between Zusi and Feilhaber led to the latter's spot-perfect chipped through ball to the young striker. Dwyer collected the ball, moved into space, and calmly slotted the ball low and to Tally Hall's right.
Sporting had a chance to make it 3-1 in the 67th, when Hall spilled a high free kick in front of goal, but Aurelien Collin shot high. Houston's best chance to equalize came in the 80th, when Corey Ashe hit a rocket that Nielsen had to dive to deflect and then cover with Ashe charging in.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Benny Feilhaber||The offensive catalyst in this one, Feilhaber was involved in most of the team's dangerous attacks and set up the winner with a beautiful through ball.|
|2||Dom Dwyer||Took his goal well, worked hard on both ends and proved a nuisance to the Dynamo's defense.|
|3||Corey Ashe||The Houston left back held up defensively and got forward with a purpose.|
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.