A pair of Major League Soccer officials slowly walked the MLS Cup trophy onto the Sporting Park field about 10 minutes before kickoff Saturday and placed it on a podium for display.
It’s here to stay.
Sporting Kansas City outlasted Real Salt Lake in a league-record 10 rounds of penalty kicks to prevail and win the second MLS Cup in franchise history, the first since 2000.
Sporting KC won the penalty kicks, 7-6, when Real Salt Lake defender Lovel Palmer banged his shot off the crossbar. That gave the game-winner to Aurelien Collin, who moments earlier buried the first penalty kick attempt of his professional career.
“Nobody wants to see a game like that decided on penalty kicks,” Collin said before smiling. “Except tonight.”
Collin also scored the game-tying goal for Sporting KC in the 76th minute. He was rewarded with the MLS Cup most valuable player award.
A championship that provided predictably plenty of drama saved its best moments for the penalty kicks.
Real Salt Lake’s Sebastian Velasquez shot for the win in the eighth round, but Sporting KC goalie Jimmy Nielsen stoned his attempt. Nielsen made two saves in the 10 rounds.
Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi stepped to the dot with a chance to clinch the championship in the fourth round, only to watch his attempt sail high over the bar.
The two sides matched makes and misses over four straight rounds before Palmer missed.
“Back and forth and back and forth,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “Those were some anxious moments just standing there and watching.”
Dramatic, intense and full of negated opportunities.
The overtime periods had it, too.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio thought he had a go-ahead goal in the 105th minute — which would have marked his second goal of the game — but he was correctly whistled offsides on the play.
That came after Sporting KC had dominated the first half of overtime. Zusi nearly punctuated that with a goal three minutes into the overtime, but Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando tipped his left-footed shot just over the crossbar.
“There were so many times in the game where (momentum) changed,” defender Lawrence Olum said. “It was a perfect storybook ending.”
Regular time wasn’t without its excitement.
Real Salt Lake jumped on the scoreboard first with a beautiful finish from Saborio in the 52nd minute. Saborio used his chest to collect a pass from Kyle Beckerman, then took one dribble and banged a shot into the back of the net.
That put Sporting KC in a familiar position. The club also trailed in the final legs of the Eastern Conference semifinals against New England and Eastern Conference finals against Houston before battling back to win those series and defeat its playoff nemesis in the process.
During a quick team huddle on the field in the second half, Sporting KC defender Matt Besler reminded his team of that.
“We basically just told each other to stay calm. At that point, there (were) still 25 minutes left, which is a lot of time, especially at home,” Besler said. “We’ve proven all year long the last 20 minutes of the game at home really shift in our favor.”
They did it again. It took an MVP performance.
Off a corner kick from Zusi, Collin put away a header in the 76h minute to tie the game and breath life into the crowd of 21,650 at Sporting Park who sat through the coldest game in MLS Cup history. It was 20 degrees at kickoff.
“For those fans to sit out there in those conditions was incredible,” said coach Peter Vermes, who was a player for the 2000 Kansas City Wizards. “This city and those fans deserved this championship.”
They’ve certainly waited for it.
Sporting KC is Kansas City’s first professional sports team to win a championship game at home since the Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
“There are a lot of people (in Kansas City) that deserve a championship,” said Besler, a native of Overland Park. “I honestly feel like I’m a part of the fans. I’m a Kansas City guy. I feel just like they feel. I’m proud we get to bring the MLS Cup home back to Kansas City.”