What we learned at MLS Cup about Sporting Kansas City

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A few take-aways from Sporting Kansas City’s side on the clubs’ MLS Cup triumph Saturday over Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park:

  • Jimmy Nielsen is good at penalty kicks, too

Nick Rimando’s uncanny ability to turn away spot shots is something close to legend in MLS. So when the clock struck 120 and moved toward the penalty spot, the inclination was to believe RSL had the edge. Maybe a big one.

But clearly SKC keeper Jimmy Nielsen knows a thing or two about penalty kicks, too. He saved one straight away (and watched another one fly well high), putting the visitors in position to chase the score through the early rounds. Later Nielsen guessed correctly on Sebastien Velasquez, cradling the young RSL shooter’s attempt and adding pressure on RSL shooters once again.

  • Claudio Bieler misses his share

Claudio Bieler came close to scoring. Then again, everyone came close to scoring in a match where blown opportunities were a big part of the bitterly cold night.

The problem for Bieler is that he gets paid to score goals, and paid quite well as a Designated Player.

At least he got a chance Saturday, which wasn’t always the case in the 2013 playoffs. Young striker Dom Dwyer once again got the start over the much-better compensated Argentine veteran, but wasn’t getting much done against RSL’s highly effective center backs. So in came Bieler in the 72nd minute, and it didn’t take him long to find some room in front of RSL goal.

His 79th minute blast from about 14 yards, a sweet little pass from left back Seth Sinovic rolled nicely along the ground, flew well high.

When the euphoria dies down on Sporting KC’s big achievement, what happens going forward with Bieler will once again be a big talker around SKC supporters.

  • Graham Zusi eventually finds some spaces

One of the night’ stop individual battles happened along Sporting KC’s left flank, where U.S. international Graham Zusi and almost-international Tony Beltran went at it. Beltran won his share of skirmishes early, but Zusi was causing trouble after the break and into the extra time.

Even as Zusi began finding spaces, isolating Beltran one-on-one by pulling out wider, the RSL right back made Kansas City’s U.S. international work. Zusi was honest in his defensive duties, never failing to get back and assist left back Seth Sinovic.

  • Kansas City as a big-time sports town

The weather was bone-chilling, but you could not tell it from the crowd. The seats were packed well before kickoff, and no one left, even as temperatures dropped into the teens. Clearly, this is a great sports town.

In fact, one of the week’s really cool moments came with Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid talked about Sporting KC and wished the soccer team luck.

“This is an incredible sports town,” a Champagne-drenched Peter Vermes said after the game. “The fans have had their downs for many years but they keep supporting their teams. From our perspective, we’re happy to reward them for the support they have continued to show through thick and thin. It’s an exciting time for the city and an exciting time for Sporting.”

  • Oriol Rosell’s injury hurt Sporting KC

So much was happening during an eventful championship that it’s easy to forget this: Sporting had to play most of the match without injured, starting defensive midfielder Oriol Rosell.

Rosell suffered a sprained ankle and had to leave after just eight minutes. When Lawrence Olum entered the match, his was the earliest substitution in MLS history.

Olum had not played since Nov. 3, missing three matches in the interim. Either way, he’s not as effective in the position as Rosell, a crafty Spaniard who was Vermes’ starter at the position from Day 1 in 2013.

As a result, Paulo Nagamura had to drop in and play a little more defensively, which usually meant one fewer man joining the attack for Sporting KC.