The play started with Seth Sinovic lying on his back in pain on the defensive end of the Sporting Park soccer field. A hard foul had flipped him head over heels after he was airborne battling for a ball.
A few moments passed. Sinovic gingerly stood up, then made a long run toward the goal that he says he will never forget.
He snuck by one defender, then another. A header from Sporting Kansas City teammate Graham Zusi landed perfectly at Sinovic’s left foot and he rifled a shot into the far corner of the net.
A goal Sinovic would later call the “biggest of my career” — though, to be fair, he only had two professional tallies to choose from — tied a playoff series with New England, and Sporting KC would later prevail in overtime.
The goal surprised almost everyone.
But not his high school coach, who was watching from the stands that night.
“I’ve seen him do it hundreds of times,” Rockhurst High School coach Chris Lawson says. “When he pushes up, he can play a nice ball with his left foot. It curls away from defenders at the goal line, and they have no chance.”
Sinovic who plays defender for Sporting KC, had a few more opportunities to score as a three-year starter with Rockhurst. He played forward in high school, just as he did the majority of childhood.
A coach at Creighton offered Sinovic a chance to start a game at left outside back, and he jumped at the opportunity to get on the field. It also just happened to be a natural fit that stuck for the long-term.
Sinovic is set to start his 35th game at the position this season when Sporting KC plays host to Houston at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the MLS Cup on the line.
“It was an instantaneous fit for me,” Sinovic said of playing defender. “It’s a position that requires someone to be fit and have a good engine, and those are some of my strengths. I’m a better passer and possession-type player than I am a finisher. So it’s been good for me.”
A year after Sinovic made his professional debut with New England, the club released him in March 2011. He earned a tryout with Real Salt Lake a month later but was never offered a contract.
In May 2011, he returned to his hometown team. He quickly learned Sporting KC’s style of play — which encourages its outside backs to make long, quick runs toward goal — was a perfect fit.
“He’s got an incredible engine to go from box to box,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “We demand a lot from our outside backs. He’s just gotten more and more confident as time goes on.”
In turn, his teammates have gained confidence in him.
A day before he scored the series-tying goal against New England, Sinovic shared a treatment room with goalie Jimmy Nielsen. In a brief chat, Nielsen predicted Sinovic would score the second goal of his MLS career.
Bold? Yes. Accurate? You bet.
“I just had a feeling it was his turn,” Nielsen said. “So I told him I thought it was time for him to score again. And he hit that fantastic bomb.”
The goal ignited attention Sinovic doesn’t often receive. His teammates and coaches describe him as quiet, reserved and not particularly flashy.
Vermes uses the phrase “under-the-radar” to describe his play, an exact wording his former high school coach used, too.
Sporting KC defender Matt Besler, recently named a finalist for a second straight MLS defender of the year awards, says he’s still trying to figure out why Sinovic hasn’t demanded more praise.
“I think Seth has been the best left back in the league this year,” Besler said. “I don’t think he gets enough recognition or credit. Seth has played really well in every single game. You can see it the last three or four months — his confidence has been at a different level.”
His goal against New England backs up that notion. Sporting KC would like to see more of it.
As would Nielsen, who may have another prediction on the way should Sporting KC reach the MLS Cup.
“We’ll see,” Nielsen said. “I have it in the back of my head that he’s a playoff goal scorer. Don’t be surprised.”