Sporting Kansas City's 2015 season ended in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday at the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Knockout Round. Kevin Ellis sent the single-elimination match to extra time with the game-tying goal in the 87th minute and Krisztian Nemeth lifted Sporting KC into the lead with a stunning strike in the first of two 15-minute periods.
However, the Timbers rallied with a late equalizer of their own in the 118th minute to level the match at 2-2 and survived the longest penalty kick shootout in MLS postseason history. Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey converted his penalty kick in the 11th round and then made the decisive save to send the Timbers into the Western Conference Semifinals.
Homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin, who entered with six minutes remaining in regulation, made three saves in the shootout and four Sporting Kansas City players - Paulo Nagamura, Soni Mustivar, Jacob Peterson and Amadou Dia - all converted attempts with the match on the line. Nevertheless, Sporting Kansas City were eliminated on the road in the Knockout Round for the second straight year as all four home teams advanced in this year's opening round of postseason play.
Sporting Kansas City weathered two close calls in the opening five minutes in front of a sold-out crowd at Providence Park. Melia's only save of the first half would come just 20 seconds into the match, parrying away Rodney Wallace's left-footed shot, though there was no shortage of activity in front of his net.
The Timbers' Designated Player duo of Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell connected on a corner kick in the fifth minute and the centerback's header was inches from giving Portland an early 1-0 lead until Nagamura intervened with a goalline clearance. Melia then kept the clean sheet intact in the 37th minute, racing off his line to tackle the ball away from Fanendo Adi in a one-on-one situation.
Sporting Kansas City was outshot 8-2 in the opening 45 minutes with the team's two attempts coming from the foot of Nemeth. The Hungarian international had a shot blocked in the 15th minute and then forced a save from Kwarasey in the 28th minute on a strike from outside the penalty area.
Nemeth sparked the team's first scoring opportunity of the second half in the 49th minute, beating his defender at the endline and playing a pass to fellow forward Dom Dwyer. The Englishman did well to power a shot through traffic from eight yards out only to see it glance off the outside edge of the near post.
Dwyer, the team's leading scorer in 2015, threatened again in the 55th minute. He capitalized on a giveaway from Darlington Nagbe and unleashed a shot from 25 yards out that whistled narrowly wide.
It was the Timbers however that gained the upperhand with the breakthrough goal. Melia made a diving save to deny Nagbe in the 56th minute on a free kick played short by Valeri, but Sporting Kansas City's 448-minute shutout streak against Portland ended a minute later.
Amidst a scramble near the top of the penalty area, Wallace was first to the loose ball and poked a lunging shot inside the post for his first postseason goal. Wallace, the reigning MLS Comeback Player of the Year after suffering a knee injury in the 2013 postseason, now has 20 goals in a seven-season MLS career.
The Timbers' lead would last until the 87th minute when Ellis leveled the match with his header on a cross from Graham Zusi. Ellis, at 5'9, outjumped 6'2 Ridgewell for his second goal in five days and his fifth of the season - most among all MLS defenders. The equalizer - which came with Sporting Kansas City playing shorthanded while Matt Besler received treatment on the sideline for a bloodied nose - goes into the record books as the latest game-tying goal in the club's postseason history.
The dramatic ending to regulation would be matched by an equally thrilling turn of events in extra time. Nemeth, who scored a stunning goal in the team's last trip to Portland, again delivered the decisive moment with a world-class finish in the 96th minute.
Nemeth cut inside George Fochive with his first touch and buried the go-ahead goal into the top corner with his second touch from an implausible angle. The 26-year-old scored in all three of the club's competitions in his debut season, contributing 10 goals in the regular season and five goals in the U.S. Open Cup before Thursday's playoff tally.
Portland frantically pushed forward to keep their season alive and very nearly drew even in the 104th minute. Jack Jewsbury, who played in Kansas City from 2003-2010, snapped his header over the bar on a corner kick taken by Valeri.
With just over two minutes until full time, two substitutes combined to rescue the Timbers from the brink of elimination. Dairon Asprilla drove a cross into a crowded penalty area filed by 16 players and Maximiliano Urruti made no mistake with a first-time volley to set up the historic shootout.
Sporting Kansas City will now turn the team's attention to a 2016 season in which the club will seek a sixth straight playoff berth and defend the U.S. Open Cup title won last month, while also competing in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League. The Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs will resume on Sunday with four Conference Semifinal match-ups on the road to 2015 MLS Cup on Dec. 6.
Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs
Western Conference Knockout Round
Providence Park | Portland, Oregon
Weather: 60 degrees and cloudy
BurgerFi Man of the Match
#PORvSKC Video Highlights
|Sporting KC (0-0-1)||0||1||1||0||2||6|
|Portland Timbers (0-0-1)||0||1||0||1||2||7|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia (Jon Kempin 84); Amadou Dia, Matt Besler (c), Kevin Ellis, Saad Abdul-Salaam; Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber, Paulo Nagamura; Krisztian Nemeth (Jacob Peterson 110), Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Subs Not Used: Erik Palmer-Brown, Jalil Anibaba, Jimmy Medranda, Jordi Quintilla, Bernardo Anor
Portland Timbers: Adam Kwarasey, Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell (c), Jorge Villafaña, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Melano (George Fochive 85), Fanendo Adi (Maximiliano Urruti 106), Rodney Wallace (Dairon Asprilla 99)
Subs Not Used: Jake Gleeson, Norberto Paparatto, Taylor Peay, Will Johnson
|Shots on Goal||3||5|
SKC -- Kevin Ellis (caution; reckless tackle) 11
SKC -- Dom Dwyer (caution; persistent infringement) 35
POR -- Liam Ridgewell (caution; persistent infringement) 38
POR -- Rodney Wallace (caution; reckless foul) 69
SKC -- Krisztian Nemeth (caution; unsporting behavior) 76
SKC -- Amadou Dia (caution; unsporting behavior) 76
SKC -- Saad Abdul-Salaam (caution; tactical foul) 93
POR -- George Fochive (caution; reckless foul) 107
POR -- Diego Valeri (caution; reckless foul) 115
POR -- Rodney Wallace 1 (Diego Valeri 1) 57
SKC -- Kevin Ellis 1 (Graham Zusi 1) 87
SKC -- Krisztian Nemeth 1 (Amadou Dia 1) 96
POR -- Maximiliano Urruti 1 (Dairon Asprilla 1) 118
Penalty Kick Shootout:
POR -- Diego Valeri (save)
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber (make)
POR -- Nat Borchers (make)
SKC -- Dom Dwyer (save)
POR -- Liam Ridgewell (make)
SKC -- Graham Zusi (make)
POR -- Jack Jewsbury (miss)
SKC -- Matt Besler (miss)
POR -- Maximiliano Urruti (make)
SKC -- Paulo Nagamura (make)
POR -- Jorge Villafana (save)
SKC -- Kevin Ellis (miss)
POR -- Dairon Asprilla (make)
SKC -- Soni Mustivar (make)
POR -- Darlington Nagbe (make)
SKC -- Jacob Peterson (make)
POR -- Alvas Powell (save)
SKC -- Saad Abdul-Salaam (miss)
POR -- George Fochive (make)
SKC -- Amadou Dia (make)
POR -- Adam Kwarasey (make)
SKC -- Jon Kempin (save)