KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- It was the longest and coldest MLS Cup in history, and easily one of the most dramatic and engaging.
The difference between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was so tiny that it took more than two hours of open play and 10 rounds of penalty kicks to determine who got to hoist the championship trophy, and it was similarly difficult to decide which individuals deserved highest marks when all involved were so clearly committed.
But someone had to win, and some tough numbers must be assigned.
Sporting Kansas City
GK Jimmy Nielsen (7) - Looked slow and tentative in the cold for long stretches and nearly gifted Robbie Findley a first-half goal, but rallied impressively to make a game-saving shootout save on Sebastian Velasquez.
RB Chance Myers (6) - Ranged forward effectively as usual and held his own when Findley and Javier Morales drifted into his territory on the SKC right flank.
CB Aurelien Collin (9) - Some would say the Frenchman was lucky to stay on the field after skating perilously close to a second yellow card on a few occasions, but he held his composure and netted two enormous goals: one to level the game and the other from the spot to give his adopted city their first trophy in more than a decade.
CB Matt Besler (6) - Got pulled out of shape and turned around on Alvaro Saborio's goal, but otherwise handled the varied threats of RSL's front line with his trademark composure.
LB Seth Sinovic (6) - Brought Sporting some much needed-width down the left when RSL pushed numbers into other areas of the midfield, but few of his crosses presented real danger to the Salt Lake defense.
CM Oriol Rosell (NR) - The Spaniard was hit by a cruel bit of luck as his day ended after just eight minutes due to an ankle injury.
CM Benny Feilhaber (8) - A memorable performance to cap a roller-coaster year for the one-time US national teamer. Perhaps surprisingly, his work rate and physicality proved just as influential as his passing vision.
CM Paulo Nagamura (6) - Rarely flashy but usually effective, he did plenty of dirty work to protect his back four.
RW Graham Zusi (7.5) - It speaks volumes about the USMNTer's massive strides of the past year or two that he was the go-to guy when SKC got forward. Hard-working, determined, shifty on the ball -- though his grade suffers a bit due to that shootout miss.
LW CJ Sapong (6.5) - A No. 9 at heart, he didn't look entirely comfortable on the wing but he was fiercely committed to KC's high pressure and active in the box, carving out a few decent looks that he'll be frustrated not to have finished.
CF Dom Dwyer (6) - Worked manfully in his 72 minutes on the pitch and was cruelly denied a place on the scoresheet by Nick Rimando's excellent goalkeeping.
Coach Peter Vermes (6.5) - At one juncture in the second half it looked like he and his team were out of ideas. But persistence, and a splash of good luck, saw them reach their goal. Deserves major credit for his role in shaping Sporting's identity and mental strength.
CM Lawrence Olum (6.5) - Handed a dauntingly difficult brief when called upon to replace Rosell's cultured presence in midfield, the Kenyan wasn't entirely precise with his passing but covered acres of ground and brought the necessary hard edge to a blood-and-thunder battle in the engine room.
CF Claudio Bieler (6) - Immediately brought a cutting edge up front when he entered in place of Dwyer and drilled home the opening PK to get Sporting started on the right foot in the shootout. That said, another bench assignment does little to ease the doubts swirling about his future in KC.
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Real Salt Lake
GK Nick Rimando (9) - Though he only saved one of Sporting's PKs (two others missed the target), it's hard to imagine what else he could have done to will his team to the trophy. Two of his four saves in regulation time were utterly breathtaking.
RB Tony Beltran (6) - Another workmanlike display from the 26-year-old. Zusi got the better of him on several occasions but he recovered well and stroked home a clinical PK in the shootout.
CB Nat Borchers (7) - Had a fight on his hands with the physical KC frontline and managed it well. Also distributed out of the back with composure and netted his spot kick.
CB Chris Schuler (6) - Handled himself well on a massive occasion but was outmuscled by Collin on the equalizer, a moment that may linger on his mind for months.
LB Chris Wingert (6.5) - Returned from injury to contribute a trademark steady outing. Was surely disappointed to exit via a second-half injury, yet he should feel pride at having done so thanks to a gutsy, last-ditch block of what looked like a sure goal.
CM Kyle Beckerman (8.5) - Another landmark night for the dreadlocked veteran, doing a bit of everything in midfield, setting up Saborio's goal with a gorgeous lofted pass and hitting the post with a shot of his own.
RM Luis Gil (7) - A watershed night for the youngster as he bravely faced up to the challenge posed by Zusi as well as the occasion itself. He may find this night a useful experience when he leads future RSL trophy charges.
AM Javier Morales (7.5) - RSL's schemer-in-chief flitted around the field in search of openings, to mixed results. His set-piece deliveries were dangerous and on another night he might've had an assist or two.
F Robbie Findley (6.5) - Ran his socks off up front in loyal service to the team's cause, but should've done much, much better when Nielsen's flub handed him a glorious look at an open net in the first half.
F Alvaro Saborio (8) - Cold-bloodedly instinctive on the game's opening goal and muscularly effective in the air against KC's center backs. Yet the Tico failed to even hit the target on his shootout-opening spot kick.
Coach Jason Kreis (8) - Made the right calls with his lineup and changed things up to decent effect when circumstances required it. Whether he leaves RSL or stays, he can hold his head high.
LB Lovel Palmer (5.5) - Ably handled his defensive duties in relief of Wingert, but his passing was a marked downgrade from the starter and fate saddled him with the burden of the game-deciding PK miss.
LM Sebastian Velasquez (7) - Showed little fear and plenty of skill on the ball when he entered the match, at least until his soft PK was saved by Nielsen. Another RSL youngster who may use this night to his advantage in the years to come.
F Joao Plata (7) - Brought something different with his cunning dribbling abilities, so much so that it bears wondering what he could've done with more time on the field.