- Kansas City was just better, all around
Talent won out, up-and-down the field. Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber out played Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen. Oriol Rosell was a better holder than Andy Dorman or Scott Caldwell. Claudio Bieler and C.J. Sapong contributed more than Dimitry Imbongo and Juan Agudelo, and Kansas City’s fullbacks thrived while New England’s struggled. Even the Revolution’s best player, Jose Goncalves, was out played by Aurelien Collin, who scored Kansas City’s opening goal.
The series was closer than many would have picked, New England’s two-goal lead a Gillette giving all of us plenty of reason to doubt. But ultimately, Kansas City was just too much, and after 113 oppressive minutes at Sporting Park, the favorites won out. Looking back on it — at all strong performances Kansas City got on Wednesday — it’s remarkable it took so long to separate the sides.
- For New England, it was a year too soon
Nobody expected the Revolution to get here, and in their season’s final game, they looked like a team for whom making the league’s final four was asking too much. They didn’t have a way to get into the game tonight, a Kansas City team hungry from two years’ disappointment smothering them. They briefly regained hope after converting a set piece, but with the exception of a 15-minute stretch in the second half, they were decidedly second best.
They need more time to build – to have a roster able to adjust to these type of challenges. Nguyen and Rowe need more experience — more tricks that only time can treat — and head coach Jay Heaps probably needed tonight’s lesson. Ultimately, he couldn’t come up with a solution for Kansas City.
If they’re in this spot next year, New England will have a Plan B. The additional depth and experience will help close the gap. Tonight, however, that gap was huge, despite the close final score.
- Big, forgotten names can still have a big impact
Peter Vermes seemed to have lost faith in Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler. Not so. A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup, Feilhaber produced one of his best performances in a KC uniform. His read on Matt Reis’s 113rd minute pass created the final goal.
And then there’s Claudio Bieler, the Designated Player whose status had supposedly reached a new low after he was left out of the traveling party for the game in New England. Tonight, he that bit of experience and savvy Kansas City needed, the attacker amongst Vermes’s options that could start converting their control into chances.
Even before his winner, Bieler had a couple of close calls, and with C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer failing to do more with their chances, it’s tempting to wonder what Bieler could offer if he could find a fraction of his early season opportunism. Between Dwyer’s work rate and Sapong’s aerial prowess, Sporting would lose something if they sacrificed either, but Bieler gives them something they’re missing.
Perhaps he’s just an option to keep in reserve. Like tonight.
- Some serious depth on display for KC
Paolo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, and Dom Dwyer came into Peter Vermes’s XI. Bieler and Ike Opara came off the bench, making their first appearances of the series. Soony Saad also provided an option, while first leg starters Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson didn’t even get off the bench. These are all players who, at one point this season, were part of Vermes’s starting XI. Now, they’re just part of the mix.
And it’s not just that they’re available. Tonight, each made a meaningful contribution. Nagamura filled in admirably for Lawrence Olum. Dwyer missed his chances but troubled New England at times with his pressure. Saad provided a wide option that allowed Zusi to move in, while Opara helped reinforce the defense when the team claimed their lead. And of course, you know about Feilhaber and Bieler.
Particularly with the international break separating the conference finals’ legs, who knows how the team will look at the end of its series with Houston. But Peter Vermes has a lot of options. On Wednesday, he used them.
- But Sporting ain’t done nothing yet
The outcome was dramatic, but the team didn’t accomplish anything they weren’t expected to. Now comes the hard part – another crack at Houston. Win, and they’ll bury two years worth of demons and host MLS Cup. Lose, and it will be the same story as the last two years: Walking off Sporting Park’s field while a stage is erected for the Dynamo.