For the second year in a row, Sporting Kansas City's season came to a disappointing end against the Houston Dynamo at Livestrong Sporting Park.
But even though Sporting was eliminated as the Eastern Conference's top seed both times, the way the 2011 and 2012 campaigns ended couldn't have been more different.
Last year, Sporting was stunned 2-0 by the Dynamo in a one-off conference final. This time out, they dominated the run of play in Wednesday night's 1-0 victory – but lost 2-1 on aggregate after Sunday's 2-0 defeat in Houston.
“We didn't lose that series today,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “We lost it Sunday in Houston.”
But while the end result was the same, Sporting's effort in Wednesday's match gave them a chance to finish the year on a far better note.
“I think we showed everything,” Nielsen said. “We did everything in our power to come back in this series. We can leave this series with our heads held high. I know we are all very, very disappointed, but we showed who we are today. We played an incredible game. All over them.”
That dominance, and the 1-0 win on Seth Sinovic's 64th-minute goal, made for an odd juxtaposition of emotions.
“It's crazy, huh? You win 1-0 but you don't go through,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “It's tough, but at the same time I'm happy with the guys, the way we came out. We gave everything we had on the field. We just didn't finish. That's the bottom line.”
And despite being frustrated once more in their hunt for their first MLS Cup since 2000, Sporting have racked up a significant list of accomplishments this year.
They opened the year with a club-record 7-match winning streak, and closed out the regular season with a 12-match unbeaten run. They repeated their first-place finish in the East, stayed in the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield until the closing weeks of the season, and earned a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League for 2013-14 by winning their first US Open Cup since 2004.
“Overall, it was where we want to be,” defender Matt Besler said. “We want to be on top of everything, and that's where we were. Obviously, we came up short on the MLS Cup, but it's another learning experience for us.”