Sporting KC

Sporting KC beats Houston 2-1, advances to the MLS Cup final

Updated: 2013-11-24T06:03:34Z

By SAM McDOWELL

The Kansas City Star

Inside a media room resembling the interior of a fish bowl, Dom Dwyer leaned back in his chair, then spent 15 minutes entertaining a pool of reporters with his quick-witted responses. His cool, calm demeanor — one that only recently transferred over to the soccer field — seemingly came too easily to a player who moments earlier made just the ninth start of his MLS career.

It took Sporting Kansas City’s newest regular to finally break down an old nemesis. And now the MLS Cup final is on its way to Sporting Park.

Dwyer curved in a goal past Houston keeper Tally Hall in the 63rd minute for the game-winning score in Sporting KC’s 2-1 victory over Houston in the Eastern Conference final Saturday night at Sporting Park.

Trying to win its first MLS championship since 2000, Sporting KC will play host on Dec. 7 to the winner of the Western Conference final between Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I’ve tried to stay calm when I get those chances to score,” Dwyer said. “It’s something I wanted to improve in my game. I just stayed patient and finished it off. It was all instinct.”

Sporting KC battled MLS record-low temperatures in disposing of an adversary that prevented such celebrations over the last two seasons. Houston knocked Sporting KC out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012.

Sporting KC finally returned the favor, and it overcame a third-minute goal from Dynamo forward Oscar Boniek Garcia to do it. C.J. Sapong tied the score in the 14th minute before midfielder Benny Feilhaber chipped a beautiful pass to set up the signature goal of Dwyer’s young career.

“He made a good run, I was able to get it where I wanted it, and he did the rest,” Feilhaber said. “That goal was a clinical finish. He took a good first touch, a good second touch and finished it clinically.”

That allowed Sporting KC to turn the tables on Houston. After two years of playing from behind in the second leg of a two-game series, Sporting KC hunkered down its defense in the back half of the field, which effectively limited the Dynamo’s chances at a game-tying goal. Houston got only one shot on goal over the final 30 minutes — a near-post shot from Corey Ashe that goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen initially bobbled before smothering on the ground.

“We were excited (to play Houston),” Sapong said. “We wanted an opportunity to play them again. We felt like we had unfinished business.”

It’s finished now. But it looked bleak early.

A pregame reminiscent of the old Chicago Bulls games — stadium lights off, loud video introduction — fired up a stadium-record crowd of 21,650 at Sporting Park.

Eight minutes later, the crowd was hushed.

After a failed Sporting KC clearance, Houston midfielder Brad Davis flicked a pass to Garcia, whose shot deflected off defender Matt Besler and spun into the net.

The lead didn’t last.

Sporting KC had its best chances of the first half over the ensuing 11 minutes. Chance Myers gave Dwyer a clean look at goal in the eighth minute, but Dwyer’s momentum on his run prevented him from making solid contact.

Six minutes later, Sapong turned the next chance into a goal. Houston defender Bobby Boswell inadvertently tapped the ball back toward a wide-open Sapong, who took a quick touch and fired a rope toward the opposite post, freezing Hall. In a season with its shares of highs and lows, Sapong scored his fourth goal since Sept. 7.

“I think a couple of years ago, (if) we go down a goal, we don’t react the way we did tonight,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “... When they scored their goal, it didn’t feel like it really mattered too much. We knew we had 87 minutes to get back into the game.”

And now there’s 90 minutes to bring Kansas City its first soccer championship in 13 years.

To reach Sam McDowell, send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com

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