The crazy part about Wednesday’s game — especially after Dmitry Imbongo’s goal — is how much better, player-for-player, Sporting had been. New England got good games from Jose Goncalves and, until the 113rd minute, Matt Reis, but a lot of their players were struggling. Their fullbacks looked like out-of-place central defenders. Andy Dorman was pulled at half time. Diego Fagundez was having trouble tracking Chance Myers. And Chad Barrett? That was a sub.
Contrast that with Sporting. Both Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers were strong at fullback, while central defender Aurélien Collin made huge contributions are both ends. Oriel Rosell had a particularly influential second half, Benny Feilhaber’s inclusion proved inspired, and the only thing wrong about C.J. Sapong was an inability to finish all the headers he won.
And in case you hadn’t heard, Claudio Bieler made an impact, too.
Feilhaber and Collin each have a solid claim as Man of the Match, but as Sporting pushed on after Imbongo’s goal — in need of an equalizer to salvage their season — it was Graham Zusi was took center stage. He won the header that was flicked on for Seth Sinovic’s goal, and as the game rolled into extra time, he continued to seek space in midfield, allowing Sporting to maintain control while funneling the ball through their best player. He may not have contributed on the final goal, but his play helped Sporting maintain pressure on New England, part of the reason Feilhaber was in position to make that big 113rd minute interception.
Perhaps the justification sounds a little thin compared to Feilhaber’s (great numbers, created the winning goal) and Collin’s (opened the scoring, was the team’s best defender), but it’s always difficult to describe how much how important the maestro is to the production. Feilhaber’s shorter, quicker, and more accurate passes may have been just as valuable as Zusi’s contribution, but serving as the man the team sought coming out of the back, Zusi orchestrated the game Feilhaber took advantage of.
There’s little question Zusi’s Kansas City’s most important player, and on Wednesday, we saw why. His only contribution to scoresheet with an assist on the tying goal, but while creating as many chances as anybody (six), he maintained the pressure that caused New England to wilt.
Other players have a great claim to the honor, but Graham Zusi’s is the one that rings true. His persistence wins our Man of the Match nod.