KANSAS CITY, Kan. – All the medical jargon aside, it comes down to this: Lawrence Olum played more than 110 minutes of the biggest game of his life on a broken leg.
The defensive midfielder missed Sporting Kansas City's first four postseason matches, after sustaining a displacement fracture of his left fibula in the regular-season finale. But within days of the injury, he was already looking toward making it back onto the pitch this year.
“The doctor said as long as I could bear the pain, I could play,” Olum told MLSsoccer.com on Saturday, after Sporting won their second title by outlasting RSL 7-6 on penalties after regulation and extra time ended in a 1-1 draw. “So from that time on, it was my goal to be ready for any game.”
He started the match on the bench – and seven minutes in, he was on the pitch after Uri Rosell rolled his left ankle and was unable to continue. It was the earliest substitution in MLS Cup history, and Olum went the rest of the way.
“The coaches were screaming, 'Lo, you've got to be ready,'” Olum said. “It's unfortunate for Uri to roll his ankle, but it gave me a chance to go in and continue what he was doing.”
While Olum's passing game is not the same as Rosell's, he provided solid defensive support and physicality and several times kept possessions alive by winning 50-50 balls.
“Obviously, it's big losing Uri,” left back Seth Sinovic said, “but if there's one guy who's going to come off the bench in the first five to 10 minutes, Lo's a great guy because he keeps so even keel. He's very calm and doesn't let the emotions get the best of him.”
Olum's low point came in the ninth round of the 10-round penalty shootout – the longest in MLS Cup history – when he pushed his attempt wide left. But Jimmy Nielsen's save of Sebastian Velasquez's attempt kept Sporting alive, and they won it in the 10th round when Aurelien Collin converted and Lovel Palmer hit the crossbar.
“I wish I could take that PK back, but it happens,” he said. “It was a down moment, but Jimmy came up big and bailed me out.”
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It was Olum who bailed Sporting out in the regular-season finale, minutes before his injury. The first goal of his MLS career, late in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia, gave Sporting three crucial points that eventually allowed them to host the MLS Cup final.
He was already no stranger to big matches when he came in on Saturday, after playing 120 minutes in central defense when Sporting won the 2012 US Open Cup over Seattle. And yet outside of Kansas City, the Kenyan international still carried a bit of an “unheralded” tag.
“If you're a fan of the team, you know what all the players are doing,” he said. “I'm not going to worry about what other people think, so long as the team knows what I'm doing. They know what my contributions are to the team.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.