After a five-year wait, the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs are coming back to Kansas City, Kansas.
Top-seeded Sporting KC and No. 6 seed Real Salt Lake are tied 1-1 on aggregate going into the decisive second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, set for 2 p.m. CT Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN, ESPN 94.5 FM, ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM).
A limited number of tickets for the highly anticipated playoff showdown—Sporting KC’s first postseason home game since defeating Real Salt Lake in the 2013 MLS Cup—remain available at SeatGeek.com. Manager Peter Vermes’ side can advance to the two-legged Western Conference Championship with a win or a scoreless draw, while another 1-1 tie would force extra time. RSL, on the other hand, can progress with a win or a draw involving four or more total goals (2-2, 3-3, etc.).
In his Tuesday morning appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB, Sporting KC captain Matt Besler set the stage rather nicely.
"Coming home for the playoffs is huge," he said. "It's something we've talked about all year long, getting that home playoff game. We were able to go on the road and get the draw, so now all we have to do is go home and win. This is a really big opportunity for us, and it's going to be a really fun week in training leading up to this game. These fans are going to be fired up. It's going to be an amazing atmosphere on Sunday."
Fired up, indeed. Children’s Mercy Park will be electric come 2 p.m. CT on Sunday, and in the lead-up to such a momentous encounter, it only seems right that we take a look back at some of the best home playoff games in Sporting KC history.
SportingKC.com has done exactly that in the space below, revisiting five classics in chronological order.
Kansas City 3, Dallas Burn 2 (Sept. 26, 1996)
1996 Western Conference Semifinals Game 1
Alas, Kansas City’s first-ever home playoff game. Through the ebbs and flows of a back-and-forth battle at Arrowhead Stadium, the legendary Preki (pictured above) was instrumental in orchestrating a wild win. Mo Johnston, a club great in his own right, fired the Wiz ahead early before Dallas struck twice in quick succession to take a 2-1 halftime lead. Kansas City trailed for most of the second half, but staged a dramatic rally with Matt McKeon equalizing on 79 minutes and Preki bagging the match-winner 10 minutes later.
Kansas City 2, LA Galaxy 0 (Oct. 6, 2000)
2000 Western Conference Championship Game 3
This one requires some context. Each playoff series leading up to the 2000 MLS Cup was held in a first-to-five-points format. Teams were awarded three points for a win and one for a draw, with each series lasting two or three games. The higher-seeded team hosted Game 1 and, if necessary, Game 3, while the lower-seeded team hosted game 2.
That brings us to the 2000 Western Conference Championship, which took all three matches to decide a winner. The Wizards tied archrival LA Galaxy 0-0 in Game 1 at Arrowhead Stadium and took a 2-1 overtime loss at the Rose Bowl in Game 2. Trailing four points to one heading into Game 3 at Arrowhead, Kansas City need to beat LA in regulation to force sudden-death extra time. Head coach Bob Gansler’s side got the job done, receiving a 21st-minute penalty kick from lethal striker and folk hero Miklos Molnar (pictured left).
Six minutes into the extra session, Mo Johnston bravely cushioned a header into the path of Molnar—suffering a kick to the face in the process—to set the Danish striker free on goal. Molnar coolly rounded LA goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and slotted home from close range to send Kansas City to their first MLS Cup.
Kansas City 3, San Jose Earthquakes 0 (Oct. 30, 2004)
2004 Western Conference Semifinals Leg 2
Kansas City’s greatest postseason comeback is also one of the most impressive in MLS history. Only three times has a club overturned a two-goal deficit after leg one to win a two-legged series. The Wizards were the second team to do so, staging a miraculous fightback at Arrowhead Stadium after suffering a 2-0 defeat in San Jose six days earlier.
Rookie Khari Stephenson kick-started the rally in the 26th minute, and a San Jose own goal three minutes into the second half drew the sides level on aggregate. That set the scene for veteran Jack Jewsbury (pictured right), who scored one of the biggest goals of his storied career in the 92nd minute to give the Wizards a 3-0 win on the night and a 3-2 triumph on aggregate.
Sporting KC 3, New England Revolution 1 (Nov. 6, 2013)
2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 2
If the 2013 MLS Cup is the crowning moment in Sporting KC history, consider this match to be the epic prequel. With a 2-1 first-leg defeat to New England in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Sporting KC had plenty of work to do in leg two at Children’s Mercy Park.
Center back Aurelien Collin, who had scored four days earlier at Gillette Stadium, pulled the sides level just before halftime with the game’s opening goal. However, the Revolution reclaimed an aggregate lead in the 70th minute through Dimitry Imbongo to put Sporting KC behind the eight ball.
Facing imminent elimination, Sporting KC received a lifeline from the unlikeliest of sources in the 79th minute. Left back Seth Sinovic galloped forward down the left flank, ran onto a flick-on header from Graham Zusi and sent a venomous volley past goalkeeper Matt Reis to ignite manic celebrations in the Cauldron and throughout the stadium. With momentum firmly on their side, Sporting KC sealed the deal in extra time when Benny Feilhaber set up Claudio Bieler for the game-winning strike in the 113th minute.
Sporting KC 1, Real Salt Lake 1 (Dec. 7, 2013)
2013 MLS Cup
Chances are if you’ve read this far into the article, you know exactly how this game went.
You know that the 2013 MLS Cup at Children’s Mercy Park was the coldest game in league history at the time. You know that Uri Rosell, Sporting KC’s influential holding midfielder, was forced off injured in the eighth minute. You know that Real Salt Lake drew first blood on an Alvario Saborio goal in the 52nd minute. You know that Aurelien Collin equalized in the 76th minute, steering home a powerful header off Graham Zusi’s corner kick.
And you absolutely know what happened in the marathon penalty shootout that decided the 2013 MLS champion on the frozen Kansas City soil.