2013 in Review: Sporting KC reach MLS Cup mountaintop, give city first title since 2000
2013 record: 17-10-7 (58 points); 47 GF / 30 GA (+17 GD)
Well, they did it.
After two years of finishing atop the Eastern Conference standings, raising fans' hopes only to crash out against Houston in the playoffs, Sporting Kansas City finally disposed of their orange-clad nemesis in the East final and then outlasted Real Salt Lake in the longest shootout in MLS Cup history. For the first time since 2000, Kansas City – the franchise and the city – have a postseason title to celebrate.
Best Moment of the Year
In the 10th round of penalties, with MLS Cup on the line, Aurelien Collin stood over the ball for his first competitive spot kick – ever. Everything in his body language screamed I don't want to be here. Collin himself would later say, in Spanish, that “There was a moment when I did not feel my heart.” And then Collin kick-started the hearts of Sporting's fans with a beautiful drive just inside the right post for the eventual winner.
Worst Moment of the Year
Sporting's fortunes in the U.S. Open Cup, which gave them their highest high of 2012, went south – hard – this year. First came the controversy over whether Dom Dwyer and Sporting's other loaned players would be allowed to play for USL PRO affiliate Orlando City SC against their home club. The four didn't play in the match – and the defending Open Cup champions still fell 1-0 to the Lions in the round of 16.
Sporting were 12 minutes and change, plus stoppage time, from yet another early playoff exit – and then Seth Sinovic picked the perfect moment for his first goal of the year. Kansas City trailed New England 3-2 on aggregate late in the second leg of the East semifinals when the left back made an overlapping run, got to Graham Zusi's flicked-on header and sent a left-footed blast far post to force extra time and Sporting's eventual 4-3 aggregate victory.
Yes, Collin was MLS' most-cautioned player this season, with 13 yellow cards and two suspensions for caution accumulation. But he never saw red, never conceded a penalty – and there's no way Sporting win MLS Cup without the big French center back. In addition to his usual high-energy, high-contact defense, he led Kansas City with three goals in the postseason – including the 76th-minute equalizer in the title match. (We already mentioned that spot kick, right?)
Manager/technical director Peter Vermes had all sorts of moves pay off at various times during the regular season and the playoffs. There can be only one “best,” though, and that goes to Sporting retaining the services of hometown center back Matt Besler when his contract ran out after the 2012 season. Balancing his new role as a US international mainstay with his club duties, Besler anchored the league's stingiest defense on his way to a second straight Best XI nod.
“This is an incredible sports town. The fans have had their downs for many years but they keep supporting their teams. From our perspective, we’re happy to reward them for the support they have continued to show through thick and thin. It’s an exciting time for the city and an exciting time for Sporting.” – manager/technical director Peter Vermes
1. Settling the “Who follows Jimmy Nielsen?” question topped this list until Monday, when Sporting traded for Columbus 'keeper (and yet another Kansas City native) Andy Gruenebaum. Then again, longtime backup Eric Kronberg (pictured right) got re-upped and handed the No. 1 spot on Friday -- for now, at least.
2. With right back Chance Myers out of contract, Sporting have a choice: Pay him enough (if they can under cap constraints) to keep their backline intact or come up with another durable, attack-minded fullback in the offseason. Mechack Jerome is more a fill-in than a first choice, and Homegrown player Kevin Ellis still needs more seasoning.
3. Paulo Nagamura was a beast in the postseason after battling a nagging ankle sprain for much of the year – but he still carries a bit of an injury-prone tag – and Sporting need an aggressive midfield presence to play their high press to full effect. Depth in that role should be a priority.