Graham Zusi free kicks found the head of Aurelien Collin and C.J. Sapong on either side of halftime as Sporting Kansas City defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-0 Wednesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park to advance to the Eastern Conference finals by an aggregate score of 4-0.
Kansas City's victory in front of a sellout crowd of 18, 565 means they'll move on to face the winner of Houston and Philadelphia on Sunday at Livestrong Sporting Park for the opportunity to go to MLS Cup. The defending champion Rapids’ season is over as injuries and consecutive losses ended their title defense in the semifinal round.
Colorado was missing three starters through injury from the series’ first leg at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Scott Palguta, Joseph Nane and Ross LaBauex replaced Drew Moor, Kosuke Kimura and Caleb Folan in Gary Smith’s makeshift 11.
Sporting made no changes to their starting lineup, although Omar Bravo wasn’t included in Peter Vermes’ 18-man roster due to a groin strain suffered last week.
With wet conditions slowing down play and making intricate build up difficult, both teams took the first 15 minutes to find their feet and acclimate to the rain-soaked pitch in a physical game that included seven yellow cards between the two teams.
Kansas City had the game’s first chance in the 16th minute when Collin’s diagonal ball behind the Rapids’ back line found Teal Bunbury in space. Bunbury’s first touch took him toward the endline, though, and Matt Pickens rushed out to cut down the angle and push the ball out for a corner kick.
Eight minutes later, Collin popped up again, scoring the opening goal and extending Kansas City’s aggregate lead to 3-0. Joseph Nane fouled Sapong from behind in a dangerous position, and Zusi curled the ensuing free kick toward the penalty spot, where Collin was waiting. Pickens came out for the punch, but the Frenchman was first to the ball, flicking it into an open net.
Sporting were content to concede the majority of possession to the Rapids with a three-goal cushion, but they still managed a few more fleeting chances before halftime. None were as dangerous as the two Colorado generated, however, but Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi both sent their efforts directly at Jimmy Nielsen in the Kansas City goal.
Both managers made changes at half as Kansas City’s Peter Vermes replaced Roger Espinoza, who was carrying a yellow card, with veteran Davy Arnaud, and Smith removed Cummings for Quincy Amarikwa.
Unfortunately for the Rapids, Sporting grabbed the reins almost immediately in the second half, controlling the tempo, concentrating possession in the visitor’s half and winning numerous free kicks around the penalty area.
The home side nearly doubled their lead a handful of times between the 55th and 60th minutes, but Collin had one header go wide, a shot carom off the joint between the post and crossbar and Sapong’s rasping shot was palmed away by Pickens.
The pace and physicality rose from there as frustration mounted on Colorado’s side and Kansas City pushed for the final nail in the Rapids’ coffin. That hammered it home in the 76th minute from yet another Zusi free kick as Sapong rose above his marker to send a powerful header over the sprawling Pickens.
Sporting saw the game out from there, content to hold their commanding lead, conserve energy for Sunday’s final and see out their fourth-consecutive shutout.