Sporting Kansas City will host the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park after advancing past the Colorado Rapids with a 2-0 victory on Wednesday in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The win elevated Sporting Kansas City to a 4-0 advantage in the two-game, aggregate goal series after topping the Rapids by the same scoreline on the road last weekend.
Sporting Kansas City will continue their 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs run on Sunday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park against the series winner between the Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union. The match time will be either 4:30 p.m. CT or 8:00 p.m. CT, pending the outcome of the tomorrow night’s semifinal matches.
Tickets for Sunday’s conference championship, the first to be hosted by Sporting Kansas City since 2004, are currently on sale and can be purchased by calling 888-4KC-GOAL, visiting the LIVESTRONG Sporting Park Box Offices or online at Ticketmaster.
Sporting Kansas City received goals from defender Aurelien Collin and rookie forward C.J. Sapong on Wednesday in front of a sold-out crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park despite harsh weather conditions. Midfielder Graham Zusi provided assists on both goals, becoming the first player in club history to record a multi-assist game in the postseason.
Forward Teal Bunbury, the scorer of both goals in the first leg last Sunday, got on the end of the first chance for Sporting Kansas City. Ghosting into the area, Bunbury latched onto a long ball over the top from Collin and barreled towards goal before Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens came out well to block Bunbury’s shot away for a corner.
In the game’s 28th minute, Collin opened the scoring for Sporting Kansas City. From a free kick near midfield, Zusi served a ball into the area that was contested by both Pickens and Collin. As the two came together, Zusi’s pass skipped off the head of the French defender and into the net to give Sporting the lead in the match and extend their lead in the aggregate series to 3-0.
The first attempt on goal for the Rapids came in the 33rd minute, as Sanna Nyassi burst towards goal after taking a quick pass from Omar Cummings. The shot was deflected by Collin, however, and straight into the arms of Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. On the stroke of halftime, Colorado went close again, with Nyassi serving a free kick that skipped behind Matt Besler before Nielsen reacted quickly to save.
Out of the halftime break, Colorado created the first chance of the second half when Nyassi seized a loose ball and poked a sharp shot that Nielsen eventually corralled. Pressure from Jeff Larentowicz on Julio Cesar forced the turnover, but Nielsen was out far enough to cut the angle to deny Nyassi’s unexpected effort.
Zusi and Collin nearly hooked up again after halftime on another set piece opportunity. This time from a corner in the 56th minute, Zusi’s cross was met at the backpost by a leaping Collin, who put his header back across goal, but wide of the far post.
The Sporting KC playmaker created another chance from a corner in the 57th minute, and again Collin was the recipient. From a quick counterattack, Kei Kamara’s far post effort was tipped wide of the post by Pickens. From the ensuing corner kick, Collin got on the end of Zusi’s cross, putting his volley off the bar.
Four minutes later, Zusi picked out Sapong making a diagonal run towards goal. Sapong, who went down for several minutes following a collision with Marvel Wynne just after halftime, turned and fired a right-footed shot, but the rookie’s effort was blocked away by the Colorado goalkeeper.
In the 73rd minute, Colorado substitute Macoumba Kandji created a chance for himself following some nice individual work down the left. After wriggling away from two markers, Kandji turned and hit a shot with his right foot, but it was straight at Nielsen and saved easily.
Sporting Kansas City then extended their lead in the 76th minute, putting the contest to bed from a Sapong header. After earning a free kick inside the Colorado half, Zusi swung a cross in from the right for Sapong, who rose to power a header past Pickens from 15 yards and seal progression for Sporting Kansas City to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2007.
Manager Peter Vermes’ squad will now await the series winner between the Philadelphia Union and Houston Dynamo, who play their decisive second leg at 7:30 p.m. CT tomorrow on ESPN2 with Houston holding a 2-1 advantage on aggregate.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
General comments on the match…
I believe this is a huge step for our team. I say that is because it’s one thing to go on the road and win 2-0, but a lot of times you can get a little self-assured about coming into the second leg. I’ve seen it happen with teams, it has happened when I played in the playoffs here, myself as a player. I think the maturity of the group to have the discipline in the two game series was huge. There is no doubt that we’ve grown up as a team. The players performed above and beyond expectations to really not give anything away. Two goals on two set pieces was big time for us. I’m extremely proud of the group.
We know that we still have some work to do here. But for sure we know that we’ve made a big step. I know that I’ve been playing down a lot of the games as we come into the stretch here because I really didn’t think we achieved something but I think now you can say that we’ve achieved something. The thing that we’ve achieved is having come in first place, we have really set ourselves up for the Eastern Conference championship to be here in our park and I think that was a big goal as an organization. We want to bring big events to this new unbelievable venue and here we are able to play that game on Sunday. I am excited for the organization and I’m very excited for the players because they have put the work ethic in all season long and they believed so it’s exciting.