This year was supposed to be different.
The 2012 version of Sporting Kansas City was stronger (many of the team stayed in KC to train with workout warrior Matt Besler), more prepared (10 of the 11 players in the lineup for the first leg against Houston on Sunday played in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals) and more experienced (newcomers this season Paulo Nagamura and Bobby Convey would bring years of MLS maturity).
And yet, exactly 368 days later, the Sporting KC season ended exactly the same way it did in 2011, with the Houston Dynamo walking off the pitch at Livestrong Sporting Park winners and Sporting Kansas City heading off the pitch facing two months of vacation.
That's how the best regular season (18 wins, 63 points, an MLS-best 27 goals allowed and winners of the U.S. Open Cup) in franchise history ends. There were many high points, for sure.
Graham Zusi leapt into the MVP stratosphere. Matt Besler cemented himself as a likely MLS Best Defender candidate now and likely for years to come. Aurelien Collin likely did the same. Jimmy Nielsen etched his name into the "club legend" category alongside Tony Meola. And Roger Espinoza is no longer our secret Honduran honey badger thanks to his outstanding play not only for KC, but also in the 2012 Olympics with Honduras.
But where did it all go wrong at the end? How did the resolute, determined team that opened the 2012 campaign with seven-straight wins and closed it with a 12-match unbeaten streak falter in the first round?
For pretty much the same reason they faltered last year: Despite all of the fight,* this team lacks bite. (All thunder, not much lightning if you will.)*For example: KC outshot Houston last night 20-3 and controlled the ball an astounding 71% of the time. That's close to a fairly common stat-line for KC in 2012.
Scoring was an uphill battle all season and the squad finished with just 42 regular season goals -- the second worst offensive output of the 10 MLS playoff teams.
Sporting KC has weapons: C.J. Sapong is a promising and developing target man; Teal Bunbury is a mercurial but talented forward (currently recovering for a devastating knee injury); Kei Kamara is the human shot machine (whose misses are often as spectacular as his makes); Jacob Peterson is all heart and handwork (but his four goals this year matched his career high; and Soony Saad and Dom Dwyer are young players with potential but little to no experience.
But you wouldn't call any of them bankable finishers.
Wednesday night -- and, quite frankly, most of the season -- a finisher is exactly what KC needed. It didn't just feel like chance after chance went wanting against Houston -- KC literally missed about a half dozen great chances.