Before the MLS Cup match itself gets too far away from us and the offseason completely overtakes all our conversations (which started in earnest on Monday night with Jimmy Nielsen's retirement), here are some leftover thoughts on Sporting Kansas City's championship night.
The Kansas City Star
These are, mostly, items that aren't getting enough attention in my opinion or things I researched/analyzed and never got around to writing about.
Also: Most of these are just for fun and memories.
Benny Feilhaber: Man on Fire
Here's the stat-line for Feilhaber over the last four matches of the season: 161 successful passes (nearly 80 percent accuracy), 14 key passes (shots or passes that create a scoring chance), 42 recoveries (tackles/interceptions that help win back possession), 2 assists and 3 "Ah, holy crap how the hell did he do that?" plays.
Those plays, in order of "holy crap-ness."
3. This ball to C.J. Sapong that, ultimately, led to a correct no-penalty call.
2. The immaculate interception/assist against New England
1. The chip pass that Dwyer will show his children some day
It took him all season, but he really found his way as Kansas City's creative hub. If that's the Feilhaber Kansas City can look forward too next year, this side could be an impressive attacking force. (Or, this could've been just a vein of positive form that can't be tapped consistently again.)
Next step: The January U.S. national team camp?
Paulo Nagamura's penalty kick celebration
The guy just knows how to do this fist-pump celebration right. MLS Cup final:
The Graham Zusi effect
Zusi could've been the goat had his missed penalty come back to haunt Kansas City. Which would've been a shame. From the moment Claudio Bieler was introduced in the 72nd minute, Zusi was as electric as I've seen him in these playoffs.
He created KC's only goal with a well-placed corner kick (which had seemed to have left his arsenal at times this season) and he finished the match with SEVEN key passes. The entire Salt Lake team recorded NINE key passes.
The Collin goal from every conceivable angle:
The introduction of Bieler changed the game
The team's designated player came on for Dom Dwyer, who had run the duo of Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler around for 70 minutes. The effect was immediately evident.
Kansas City was a much more menacing attack with Bieler leading the line, as Graham Zusi and Feilhaber began to find space in the middle of the field. It led to four good chances including KC's lone goal and two great chances in extra time.
Imagine the Benny Feilhaber from this month with a fit Bieler and a jazzed up Zusi heading into next year? Now, imagine if they find a true winger for the other side of the field. Could be a very tasty attacking force next year.
Beauty and the beast
While Real Salt Lake gets a lot of credit (some of it deserved, though not much from this game) for playing "beautiful" soccer, let's not forget that Kansas City can (at times) ball a little bit too.
And for all the talk about how Kansas City are the overtly physical team that likes to foul and knock people around (a reputation not wholly undeserved), as long as Salt Lake employs Borchers, they can knock people around with the best of 'em.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Let's not get too carried away with discussing how "beautiful" Kansas City played, though. Can they attractive soccer? Yep, totally. Did they?
Well, not always. Anyone willing to make the case that this wasn't a very good attacking team can point to one stat: Collin was the team's leading scorer and had as many goals (3) as all of KC's forwards combined. (Bieler, C.J. Sapong and Dom Dwyer each had one.)
In the end, though, the aesthetic beauty of the game is secondary to the silverware. Because
Tough luck RSL
Since 2009, Salt Lake has arguably been the most entertaining team in MLS. Sadly, since winning the MLS Cup that year, Salt Lake has a pretty impressive collection of runners-up medals: 2011 CONCACAF Champions League, 2013 U.S. Open Cup and 2013 MLS Cup.
They finished 2013 one win away from the Supporters' Shield, one goal from the Open Cup trophy and one penalty kick from the MLS Cup.
Now, Jason Kreis has left to take over for Manchester City-backed New York City FC. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with RSL and its loaded roster. Especially its talented youngsters. Speaking of which
Luis Gil is the future
A few years ago, Kansas City won a weighted lottery for the Salt Lake midfielder. But he wanted to play in the Western Conference and Salt Lake made the trade for him. It was a good bit of business for KC: A second round draft pick in 2011*, an international spot for one year and a minority percentage in any potential future sale of Gil.
*Kansas City drafted J.T. Murray, who didn't make the roster that year.
That last bit could potentially be kind of important, as, after the MLS Cup, I'm pretty convinced the future of American soccer is Luis Gil. He's got impressive ball control, superior vision and, at just 20 years old, he's already a seasoned veteran (84 MLS appearances).
With his mentor now gone, does Gil entertain what I'm sure are a half dozen suitors in Europe? And, if he does, can he crack the 2014 U.S. World Cup team? It's something that, oddly, both Salt Lake and Kansas City will be watching with keen interest.
Back to KC
Collin lives life on the edge
KC's French defender has had moments this year when his adventurous defending cost Kansas City.
A lot of criticism about how Kansas City plays can be laid at the feet of the league's most yellow-carded player. His aggression often gets the better of him, both in heavy tackling and assertively moving out of position to win the ball back.
He's also one of the main reasons Kansas City is holding the MLS Cup.
Not only did he have the most goals scored in the playoffs, he led all players in November/Decenter in interceptions (35), headers won (29) and duels won (60). He was second in clearances (73) and tackles won (20).
He's a player that KC fans love and other fans loathe. So, of course he scored tying goal AND made a dodgy tackle while on a yellow that very nearly could've been disastrous for Kansas City. (Reasonable and unreasonable people might argue that tackle on Robbie Findley for a while.)
But, that's life on the edge with Aurelien Collin. Of course he scored the game-winning penalty. Of course.
Some love for Leapin' Larry
Sporting KC is now 2-0 when Lawrence Olum plays meaningful minutes in a cup final.
In 2012, he had to deputize for a suspended Collin (surprised?) against Seattle in the Open Cup finals. This year, he had to step into the breach after Rosell went down with an ankle injury.
Olum was solid replacing an extremely vital cog in KC's midfield in the biggest game of the year.* He completed 75% of his passes, won seven headers and had 13 recoveries. He might not have been as smooth as Rosell would've been, but he replicated the numbers fairly well. (It's best we don't dwell on his penalty miss it wasn't good and I'm glad he wasn't the scapegoat.)
*Also worth pointing out, without Olum's late goal against Philadelphia to close the regular season, this game isn't being played at Sporting Park. Those three points meant Sporting KC finished above Salt Lake in the standings.
Also, have I mentioned yet that broke his leg last month against New England. Broke. His. Leg.
Are we sure he isn't Wolverine?
A mesmerizing video
No commentary. Just PKs and crowd reaction.
What a bonkers game.