On Monday afternoon, just 24 hours after Sporting Kansas City lost 2-0 to the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Kei Kamara was looking for a little inspiration.
It didn’t take him long to find it, but Kamara still had to go back two full years and into a completely different era in Kansas City’s MLS history. Nonetheless, Sept. 22, 2010, should still have special meaning to Sporting fans when they pack Livestrong Sporting Park to the gills on Wednesday night for the series’ decisive second leg (9 pm ET,watch LIVE online, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
That game, a 4-3 win for the then-Wizards on a stoppage-time header from Josh Wolff, was defined by three unanswered goals for Peter Vermes’ team at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Not so coincidentally, that’s exactly what Sporting need to keep their 2012 season alive.
So on Tuesday when Kamara arrived at training, he gathered his teammates around one of the computers in the team’s training facility and rolled the highlights from that epic comeback, the kind of against-all-odds victory that Kansas City hope they can replicate against another Dominic Kinnear-led team Wednesday night.
“Obviously it came out to be against Houston … I decided when I come in [Monday] I’ll put the video up. Everybody was really excited and kind of enjoying it. [It was just] to get the guys loose and [relieve] stress in the locker room, that’s what I wanted to do.”“We dominated a lot of games in this league this year with this team where we haven’t scored that many goals in games,” Kamara said. “So I was just sitting back thinking when was the last time we scored many goals in games.
Of course, that game didn’t have the same stakes and both teams are very different this time around.
Still, Kamara’s strategy worked in a least one regard: Kansas City seemed loose and confident Tuesday following their final training session. They believe, and that’s at least half the battle.
“For me at least, it’s the true makings of an amazing story,” C.J. Sapong said. “It’s going to test us obviously to win by three goals, but we’re all ready for it. … We definitely know it’s possible.”
But they also acknowledge possible doesn’t necessarily equate to likely, especially since Sporting haven't exactly been a prolific attacking side this season despite their sterling record.
Apart from Vancouver, SKC finished 2012 with the fewest goals (42) among playoff sides. They only scored more than two goals, the minimum they’ll have to muster against the Dynamo, three times during the regular season. Even more damning, they’ve recorded just two goals and zero victories in their past five games vs. Houston.
That may seem like a laundry list of reasons why their season is likely to end earlier than expected, but Sapong said they simply haven’t needed to rack up goals to be successful until now.
He expects that to change with the pressure on, and Sporting's season hanging in the balance.
“It didn’t really matter at that moment in time,” Sapong said. “Obviously now we have to score three goals. It never was a demand of us to score more than we needed to. I’m interested to see how we react. I think we’ll be up to the challenge.”
That’s what the sell-out crowd expected at LSP will be hoping for – the same kind of magic that propelled the Wizards a little more than two years ago.
And if Kansas City can deliver early, who knows? Perhaps the ghosts of comebacks past will haunt a Dynamo side that once again looks in complete control.
“We can win this game and make history. But at the same time, if it doesn’t go our way, we [shouldn’t put] our heads down,” Kamara said. “It’s been a great season, so obviously we’re trying to push to the limit of the season where we finish it up strong. We didn’t put ourselves in a good position from the last game, obviously, but a 2-0 lead in soccer is the hardest lead. You score one, the other one is going to come.”