The Full 90

Three Thoughts: Sporting KC books a spot in the MLS Cup

Updated: 2013-11-24T04:02:39Z

Charles Gooch

The Kansas City Star

After an intense match that required an inspired comeback and a ferocious defensive effort, Sporting Kansas City will play in the MLS Cup on Dec. 7.

It's been nine years since Kansas City made it to the MLS Finals. This time around, Sporting KC won't have to travel.

Kansas City beat the Houston Dynamo 2-1 in front of a record-breaking 21,650 fans at Sporting Park. A venue likely to be just as raucous in two weeks' time.

Here are three thoughts on the massive victory.

1. Dom Dwyer finally showed patience in the box.

I've got no problems with Dwyer. He's young and has an amazing work rate. He was the USL Pro's leading scorer this year with 15 goals in 13 appearances. He's going to be a very good MLS forward. But, at halftime, I was wondering not if but when we'd see Claudio Bieler. Especially after Dwyer and C.J. Sapong scuffed clear tap-ins in the first half.

What I've been waiting for from Dywer, has been patience. He attempts a lot of long shots and tries to take the ball on first-time entirely too often. It can be frustrating and, had the game turned another direction, might have been cause for examination in the weeks to follow.

Then, this happened.

I'm not sure that's a goal Bieler scores. I'm not sure that's a goal Graham Zusi scores. Its' a combination of skill, speed and toughness. He is Kansas City's only forward with those three in good supply. Watch that again, but at this angle. Speed of thought and patience matched perfectly.

That's the Dwyer I've been waiting for. The Dwyer that Peter Vermes has shown faith in down the stretch. I'm not sure what will happen with Bieler over the next two weeks — Kansas City aren't paying the designated player to come on as a last-second time-wasting substitute. But, that's a conversation for later.

2. Benny Feilhaber is Mr. November.

Earlier this year, Peter Vermes said that Feilhaber was the one player on this team that had the solutions in the attacking third.

With a lot of questions being asked the last month about Kansas City's offense, Feilhaber performed like a kid who brought a cheat sheet to a middle-school algebra quiz. He aced it.

He was the man of the match, easily.* A two-way midfielder (shocking, but true) who controlled the middle of the park. He assisted on Dwyer's game winner (watch that beautiful chip again) and he created the opportunity for C.J. Sapong's first goal. Earlier in the game, he started the sequence that led to Dwyer's scuffed tap-in. For good measure, only Aurelien Collin (12) had more recoveries than Feilhaber (10). That stat is the key indicator of hustle and defensive work.

*Dwyer was the first runner-up; Zusi the second.

Feilhaber has been something of a disappointment to some for KC this year. He wasn't a fixture in the lineup this season in difficult road games — especially down the stretch. But over the last three matches, he's been extraordinary.

On the attacking front, he had 12 key passes over the last three games. In the second leg against New England, he completed 60 passes and conjured the series-clinching goal all by himself. On Saturday, he picked up the big assist and had five key passes.

His two-way play has been solid too. Over the last three matches, he's had 38 clearance/interceptions/recoveries. That's an immense number for an attacking midfielder. Oriol Rosell, the team's recovery/interception machine, had only two more in that same span.

Now, have these three games earned him his spot on Kansas City's roster next year? He's amongst the highest-paid players on the squad and didn't really solidify his place until Peterson Joseph and Lawrence Olum — two lesser-paid (and lesser-quality) players — both were out injured. With play like tonight, it's hard to argue that he needs to go. The big question? Have we seen a real change in Benny? That he's not just an occasionally brilliant player. That he can play like this outside of the month of November.

We might find out for sure on Dec. 7.

3. Despite an early slip, Kansas City's defense was up to the task

When Houston scored just three minutes into the game — off a chaotic series of mistakes from Kansas City's normally staid and sturdy back line — everything looked bleak. But Kansas City's back line remained composed. After 15 minutes, Matt Besler started to marshal the defense and organize the line. Seth Sinovic began marking the goalscorer, Oscar Boniek Garcia, out of the match. And Chance Myers and Aurelien Collin won just about everything in the air.

Despite chasing the game for more than 25 minutes, the Dynamo managed just one shot on target in the second half.

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