Claudio Bieler is alive and well.
Bieler shook off the rust from a three-week absence and scored an overtime goal in the 113th minute Wednesday, lifting the club to a 4-3 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference semifinals against New England.
Sporting KC prevailed 3-1 Wednesday, enough to overcome a 2-1 loss Saturday in the first leg of the two-game series.
“Him and I had a talk last week, and I said to him that there’s more soccer to play,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “(He) didn’t understand yet what the playoff environment is like, but the opportunities are going to come. (I told him he) was going to stick one away from us, maybe two.”
They’ll settle for the one.
Sporting KC will face Houston in the Eastern Conference finals, a two-game series that opens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Houston. It marks the third straight season the two clubs have met in postseason play.
Sporting KC needed late scores from a pair of unlikely sources to advance.
In his first postseason with Sporting KC, Bieler scored for the first time in since Sept. 7 — and saw his first playing time Wednesday in nearly three weeks after falling out of favor in Vermes’ lineup.
“He is what he is,” Vermes said. “He’s a goal scorer. It’s great to see him get his confidence on his goal because we need him down the stretch here.”
His return to the field came just in time.
So did a 79th-minute blast from defender Seth Sinovic. A former member of the Revolution, Sinovic rifled a shot from the left side to the far post, easily beating New England goalie Matt Reis to tie the series at 3.
It was as uplifting as it was unlikely.
Sinovic’s second career goal — his other coming in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals — spoiled a potential game-winner nine minutes earlier from Revolution striker Dimitry Imbongo.
“I thought we dominated the game from start to finish,” Sinovic said. “... I think this game shows the type of character we have. They tied it up tonight and we needed another goal. We just keep fighting, and hopefully we can bring that to the next round.”
Imbongo’s score, which initially deflated a crowd of 19,031 at Sporting Park, was the first sign of activity toward goal from New England, which opened in defensive mode after a 2-1 victory in the opening leg of the two-game series.
The Revolution executed that plan for 40 minutes. Not any longer.
Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin opened the scoring in the 41st minute — taking advantage of the first mistake of the night from a New England defense forced to play on its heels.
It was the shot that finally reached the back of the net, but it was far from the first opportunity.
New England elected to bunker its defense (and even its forwards) on its own side of the field.
Sporting KC was prepared for that style. The home club controlled 72 percent of the possession in the opening half while holding New England without an attempt on cage.
Sporting KC pulled the trigger on 32 shots in the game, with 10 of them on target.