(October 26, 2013) -- Sporting Kansas City moved back into the Supporters' Shield lead with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Sporting KC will claim their first regular season title since 2000 if the New York Red Bulls lose or draw to the Chicago Fire on Sunday at Red Bull Arena (4 p.m. CT on UniMas).
Lawrence Olum's game-winning goal in the second minute of stoppage-time gave Sporting KC three points in their regular season finale. Sporting KC improved their League-best road record to 8-5-4 and remain one of two teams in MLS with a positive goal differential away from home (+3).
Sporting KC finished the season with 30 goals allowed, the second consecutive year the team has led MLS in that category.
Saturday's match featured a flurry of chances for both teams. Sporting KC had two good looks on goal in the first half, but Dom Dwyer pulled his 14th-minute shot just wide of the post and goalkeeper Zac MacMath did well to thwart Jacob Peterson in the 23rd minute.
The visitors broke the deadlock minutes after halftime. Matt Besler's long throw-in found Olum at the near post. The Kenyan midfielder out-jumped his defender and headed the ball to the back post. Graham Zusi snuck past Antoine Hoppenot and headed the ball into the net for his sixth goal of the season and the first headed goal of his MLS career.
Needing a win to keep their playoffs hopes alive, Philadelphia brought on MLS All-Star Jack McInerney in the second half and the move nearly paid immediate dividends. In the 76th minute, Sheanon Williams' long throw-in dropped inside the Sporting KC penalty box. The young striker put his attempt on target but Seth Sinovic alertly stayed on his line to head the ball away from danger.
Philadelphia was not to be denied, however, and found their equalizer in the 88th minute. After the ball ping-ponged inside the Sporting KC penalty box, Jeff Parke headed the ball between two Sporting KC defenders. McInerney darted through the box and slotted past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen for his 12th goal of the season.
The drama was not over at PPL Park, however. In the 91st minute, second-half sub Teal Bunbury slotted a ball across the penalty box to Jacob Peterson. The speedy winger fired a shot on target but goalkeeper Zac MacMath did well to parry it away.
Less than a minute later, though, Sporting KC found the game-winning goal. The play began when Nielsen sent a long punt down the right flank to Peterson. The Indiana University product's cross took a deflection and landed at the foot of Bunbury. The young striker played the ball back to Olum and his one-time finish beat MacMath for the game-winning goal.
Depending on results from other matches in MLS this weekend, Sporting KC can play any of four teams in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Final seeding will be determined at the conclusion of the New York / Chicago game on Sunday afternoon. Regardless of results, if Sporting KC reaches MLS Cup then Sporting Park will host the championship match.
Sporting KC playoff tickets will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT via Ticketmaster.com. Sporting KC will host the Eastern Conference Semifinals second leg on either Nov. 6 or Nov. 7.
Sporting Kansas City defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1 at PPL Park on Saturday in their final match of the MLS regular season. With the win, Sporting KC moves into first place in the Eastern Conference and Supporters' Shield standings with 58 points.
If the New York Red Bulls draw or lose on Sunday against the Chicago Fire, Sporting KC will claim the Supporters' Shield and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Sporting KC has finished in first place in the Eastern Conference each of the last two years. The team won the Supporters' Shield in 2000.
Regardless of results, Sporting Park will host MLS Cup if Sporting Kansas City reaches the championship match.
Sporting KC finishes the MLS regular season with a 17-10-7 record, including a 14-6-5 mark against teams in the Eastern Conference.
Sporting KC's 17 wins are most in MLS this year. The team's +17 goal difference is also best among all teams in the league.
Sporting KC leads MLS with just 30 goals allowed in 34 games, a 0.88 goals per game average.
Sporting KC has the most away wins in Major League Soccer in 2013 with eight, matching last year's total and tying the team record. Sporting KC also has the fewest goals allowed on the road in MLS with 15 and best goal difference on the road at +3.
Sporting KC's 15 road goals conceded are the fewest in a season in team history, tying the mark set in 2000 and 2012.
Graham Zusi's goal is the first headed goal of his MLS career and second in as many weeks, after scoring on a header with the U.S. Men's National Team. Prior to these two goals, Zusi's last headed goal came in his junior year of college while attending Maryland.
Sporting Kansas City's 14 headed goals are most in MLS this season. Sporting Kansas City leads MLS with 92 headed shots this year.
The goal is Zusi's sixth of 2013, a new single season career high, and 17th in his Major League Soccer career.
Sporting KC is 13-0-1 in MLS competition when Zusi scores. Zusi's last goal for Sporting KC in an MLS match was on Aug. 31, 2013.
Zusi has three goals in his career against Philadelphia, most among all active Sporting KC players.
Sporting KC has scored four goals from throw-in's in 2013.
Zusi leads MLS with 128 corners and 47 successful corners into the box. His 80 successful crosses/corners are also most in MLS.
Zusi led all players on Saturday with six crosses.
Zusi's 128 corners are second most in a season in KC history, behind his 2012 season with 150 corners.
Zusi leads MLS in chances created from set play with 52.
The assist on Zusi's goal was Lawrence Olum's first since joining MLS in 2011.
Prior to 2013, Sporting KC had not won an MLS match at PPL Park. The team won both games in Philadelphia this season, winning the first and last match of the 2013 regular season at PPL Park.
Graham Zusi has played a direct role in four of the team's five goals scored in Philadelphia this year, scoring two goals and adding two assists at PPL Park.
Zusi is the only MLS player with 5 or more goals and seven or more assists in each of the last three seasons.
Sporting KC is 4-2-3 against the Union all-time and 2-1-2 on the road in the series.
Philadelphia's Jack McInerney scored his 12th goal of 2013 to tie the score in the 88th minute of the match. McInerney's goal was assisted by Jeff Parke, his first assist of the year.
The goal was the first second half goal that Sporting KC has allowed in seven MLS matches. McInerney's goal ended a 411-minute shutout streak for Sporting KC, fourth longest in MLS this season. The streak started with a Philadelphia Union goal on Sept. 27.
Sporting KC has held opponents to a goal or fewer in 27 of the team's 34 games this season.
Sporting KC allowed only six goals in the final 15 minutes of MLS matches in 34 games this year. Sporting KC is 13-0-1 when leading at the 75-minute mark in 2013.
Sporting KC has not conceded multiple goals in any of the team's last 11 MLS matches.
Lawrence Olum scored the game-winner in second half stoppage time, his first goal since joining Major League Soccer. He had gone 41 games without a goal or assist prior to Saturday.
Olum's game-winner in the 92nd minute is Sporting KC's second latest game-winner of the season, only behind Ike Opara's 97th minute match winner at Real Salt Lake.
The goal was Sporting Kansas City's fifth game-winning goal in the 80th minute or later in 2013.
Teal Bunbury tallied the assist, his first since Aug. 26, 2012 when he suffered a season ending-knee injury on the play.
Sporting KC is 15-2-3 when scoring first in 2013 and has won nine straight games when scoring first.
Sporting KC is 11-9-0 in one-goal games and 6-5-5 when tied at halftime in 2013.
Sporting KC is 6-2-1 when scoring two goals and 6-5-3 when allowing one goal in 2013.
Sporting KC went 15-8-6 when wearing Sporting Blue and 2-4-2 on NBCSN in 2013.
Sporting KC is 5-1-4 in games before 5 p.m. CT and 9-3-3 when the temperature is below 75 degrees in 2013.
At the conclusion of the first half, Aurelien Collin led all players with four interceptions and eight duels. Collin was subbed off at halftime after receiving a yellow card in the first half.
Collin's 13 yellow cards are most in MLS this year and rank second most by an MLS player in a single season in MLS history.
Collin has received 29 cautions in three seasons with Sporting KC, good for sixth most in team history.
Sporting Kansas City's 67 cautions are a single-season club record.
Sporting KC set a new team record with 511 fouls committed in 2013.
Collin ranks second in MLS with 206 aerials, 136 aerials won and 198 headed clearances.
Collin leads all MLS defenders with 28 shots (21 of them headers, third most among all MLS players) and nine shots on goal this season. Both marks are single-season career highs for Collin.
The Philadelphia Union were without captain Brian Carroll on Saturday for caution accumulation, snapping a streak of 59 straight starts -- a Union team record and second longest among active MLS players.
Sporting KC has lost only once in the team's last nine matches. The lone loss came against the Philadelphia Union at Sporting Park on September 27.
Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes surpasses Fernando Clavijo and moves into a tie with Schellas Hyndman for 17th most wins in MLS history (62).
Vermes winning percentage (.559) is best for a Sporting KC coach all-time.
Vermes becomes the fifth coach in MLS history to record back-to-back seasons with a winning percentage above .600 (.662 in 2012 and .603 in 2013). The feat was done previously by: Bob Bradley (2000, 2001), Sigi Schmid (2001, 2002 and 2011, 2012), Dominic Kinnear (2007, 2008), and Bruce Arena (1997, 1998 and 2010, 2011).
Sporting KC is only the second team in MLS history to win 17 or more regular season games in back-to-back seasons in the non-shootout era (along with LA Galaxy in 2010 and 2011).
Jimmy Nielsen has played every minute in 90 straight MLS regular season matches. That streak ranks second longest in MLS history, behind only Kevin Hartman (112).
Nielsen's 0.88 goals against average is best in MLS this year among goalkeepers with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played. His 13 shutouts lead the league and are fourth most in a single season in MLS history.
Nielsen's 0.88 goals against average is second best in team history for a single season, behind only his 2012 campaign (0.79).
Nielsen's career goals against average (0.99), shutouts (45), wins (57), matches (128) minutes (11,497), and winning percentage (.575) are best for goalkeepers in club history.
Nielsen's 17 wins and 13 shutouts are third most in a season in team history by a goalkeeper.
Nielsen's 0.99 career goals against average is best in MLS history among goalkeepers with a minimum of 700 minutes played.
Seth Sinovic has started and played the full 90 minutes in each of the team's last 16 MLS matches, the longest active games played streak on the team. Sinovic leads all players with 3,223 minutes played in all competition this season.
Sinovic and Oriol Rosell are tied for the team lead for most games played (37) and games started (36) in all competition this season.
Rosell is tied for the MLS lead with 128 interceptions.
Rosell's 66 fouls committed are fifth most in a season in club history and most since Matt McKeon committed 76 fouls in 2001. His 10 yellow cards are tied for second most in a season in KC history behind Aurelien Collin (13).
C.J. Sapong traveled to Philadelphia but did not dress as a precautionary measure due to a neck strain.
Sporting Kansas City's 50 offside infractions in 2013 are an all-time single-season low.
Sporting KC leads MLS in 2013 with 383 shots, crosses/corners accuracy (29.9), chances created from set play (87), duels (4029), duels won (2029), aerials won (706), interceptions (792), headed clearances (674) and tackles (712).
Sporting Kansas City's defense has conceded the fewest shots (301) and shots on goal (101) of all MLS teams in 2013.
Sporting KC is 8-1-5 in regular season finales in the non-shootout era (since 2000). Philadelphia is 0-4-0.
Soony Saad led all players with four shots on Saturday.
Matt Besler led all players with 17 clearances on Saturday.
Lawrence Olum was four for four on aerial duels on Saturday, the most aerials won of any player. Olum also led all players with 49 passes.
Graham Zusi led all players with 17 duels on Saturday, winning a game-high 10 of those duels. Zusi suffered six fouls on Saturday, a single-game career high.
Sporting KC is 229-216-116 all-time and 79-136-66 on the road in team history.
Jacob Peterson surpassed 9,000 regular season minutes played in his MLS career on Saturday. Only three other current players have hit the mark: Matt Besler, Paulo Nagamura and Jimmy Nielsen.
Seth Sinovic surpassed 7,000 regular season minutes played in his Sporting KC career on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City
Manager Peter Vermes
"Our whole idea was that we didn't want to lose out on an opportunity. We had an opportunity today to try and come in here and put the pressure on the other teams. We've done our part and now it's up to the rest of the guys but at the end I loved the way that we finished because it is a great start going into the playoffs having that mentality. We could have easily closed up shop after they tied us that late. But I also think fitness wise, it really showed at the end how much more we had in our gas tank to be able to finish it off. Guys running full for the score and that determination is something that you need in the playoffs."
About the defensive mentality after Philadelphia scored the tying goal...
"We truly didn't, we didn't. There was nothing we could do. At one time they had eight forwards up on the line. You have to be careful; you can't take all the chances in the world. One of the things is that their goalkeeper was willing to bomb everything forward. It was more of the way that they started to play that we had to sort of adapt. I've been in those games as a player many times, and you have to be able to live through those moments and I think going into the playoffs, having to experience something like that this late in the season was excellent for us as we go through the playoffs."
About getting two wins here in Philadelphia this season...
"Especially to start and end the season with the same team. It is a competitive disadvantage for us, on both sides. They get a chance to start off well and they get a chance to use the home field advantage again today to get the points that they wanted. From our perspective it was a very difficult one for our guys. I have to give them a lot of credit, the work ethic, the attention to detail and the tactical approach in this game and finally the determination at the end."
About playing Philadelphia and the environment in a big game...
"When you experience this type of environment, the big thing that happens to you as a team is that you remember that this is the last game. You're not going to forget what you just went through to make this happen so I think from a confidence point of view, it is a great stepping stone to the playoffs."
About the competitiveness of the MLS...
"I say this all the time, everybody thinks making the playoffs in this league is a lay-up, and there's no chance. When you look at, over the course of a season, the parody and how close everyone is right now in both conferences, except for a few outliers. That parody gives you the opportunity to beat anybody week in and week out. If you take the EPL and made the comparison and said Man U is going to play against Norwich this weekend, well it is not a question whether or not they're going to win...it's whether it's by four or three goals. We don't have that in this league and I think that is a great thing and the entertainment value for all of our fans."
On Philadelphia Union...
"They're a tough team, they're an organized team, they are a team that likes to try to counter on you. They are aggressive and take risks going forward so it is definitely not an easy team to play against. At the same time, these battles are good because they help strengthen not only the league but also for us moving into the playoffs."
About coming back and coaching so close to home...
"20 minutes over the bridge is where I'm from (Delran, NJ) so I see my family and everybody comes to the games. A group from my hometown is here today, so I'm going to go sign some autographs for them afterwards. It's always better to go do that after you win, not when you lose though."
Midfielder Lawrence Olum
About the atmosphere in Philadelphia...
"It felt good. We definitely knew we were the away team because the crowd was rooting for the other team. To come out and get a win in a place like this is a great feeling."
About coming back after the game was tied...
"We had so many chances before that to put the game away but they are a good team and they hang in there and score in the 88th minute. We were resilient and it was just the way it happened today."
When asked about scoring the game winning goal...
"I think we worked the ball to the right and Jake (Peterson) crossed it to Teal (Bunbury) who took the ball and turned it around. Luckily enough I was just trailing and he laid it off perfectly for me."
Defender Matt Besler
About dealing with Philadelphia going all in and the game plan to handle the attack...
"It is something that we expected going in. I think we managed the situation well. I think the first half, due to the wind conditions, knowing that they were at home and they were going to start game off flying, I thought we managed it well, played it simple and safe. Once we got to the second half we knew things would open up a little bit and we would have some more opportunities to play and to get our movements in and we took advantage of it."
About getting back up after giving up the tying goal...
"It was a tough one to give up, because we battled for the first 80 some minutes and not giving one up. The goal, the ball popped through and just ended up on McInerney's foot and he finished. It was a tough one to give up but I think we all believed that we would get another chance to score one and I think that's one of the reasons why we may have gotten one. We kept pushing and we kept making the runs and Olum had a great finish, finished strong."
About the momentum that comes from winning going into the playoffs...
"This win is big for a number of reasons. It gives us a chance at the shield and it gives us no worse than second most points in the league so you're looking at MLS cup and hosting that. It also just gives us confidence. We are team that believes in our system, we know what works and we are playing with confidence going into the playoffs."
Team Manager John Hackworth
"I would just start by saying that I hope everyone realizes what an effort the guys in that locker room put in today. We just played one of the best teams in the League. They may win the Supporters Shield, and if they do, congratulations Sporting KC. Our guys came out and played with everything they had, and they executed a good game in that first half. Giving up that goal early in the second half changes everything, so we had to do everything we could to get back in the game, and the hard part for us is that the draw doesn't do us any good. Ultimately that left us very vulnerable in the back, and Sporting KC capitalized on that. Draw didn't do us any good, loss didn't do us any good, and we had to really go after it. The other factor for me, made it really difficult is the wind. The wind was hard for both teams, especially going in the direction of the River End. It was really kind of impossible to put the ball where you wanted it to without it rolling 5-10 yards on the ground."
On the struggling offense in the second half of the season...
"I would say the expectation changed. We were playing well. We were probably exceeding people's expectations and that probably gave everyone gave this idea that we were this high flying team with the ability to beat some of those teams, and we were. At the same time, it is not like we changed much. You go on runs as a team where it is tough to get goals and certainly have a bad stretch. For our credit, we recovered from that. We put in some performances at the end that we had to. Unfortunately it just wasn't good enough in the last five games."
On what has to change going forward...
"Well I think there are a lot of guys in the locker room who are going to be back here next year and are really going to have profited this year and the experiences that this team has had. It is hard for me to sit here and tell you guys that I think the future looks bright, but in fact, I really believe that it does. We have a couple of pieces that we need to change, and we have some tough decisions in the off season, just like any other team. But I would look at it very optimistically because there are a lot of guys in that locker room have great futures ahead of them. I think our team is one that is building. We are getting better and better. You look at it and you think there are a lot of pieces that are going to be good next year."
On Antoine Hoppenot...
"I kind of said, look, we are going to go out in a 4-3-3; I think it suppressed Kansas City. And to give Antoine that opportunity, we really thought we could exploit his speed and have him stress the defense. There are some plays in there that Antoine makes and it just didn't come off for him at times tonight. That was the thinking. Looking back on it, the first half, we got exactly what we wanted out of it. We thought we would be able to get two and if we didn't give up the long throw in the second minute of the first half, bring on Jack McInerney, Sebastian Le Toux, we had a good bench today, especially in the attacking side.
On looking back at 'what if's' of the season...
"It is hard because we know there are goals that we scored that were legitimate, people admit they were legit, and that is 6 points right there. We had two goals against us in some of the craziest injury time ever. So maybe it is a season of what-ifs. We have to take responsibility for that, I do believe you kind of get those balances back and forth, it doesn't feel like we got them this time, but I cannot think about that much because we have to move on. We have guys in the locker room that have bright future's and will be really good in this league and will put this club and this league in a position that can challenge for a championship someday."
On Roger Torrres and Kleberson...
"I think dealing with Jose...he scores a great goal against Toronto. We have had a couple of injuries that have really opened up a spot for him and he did well. But we did not do well enough as a team. Roger really started coming on and pushing hard and having really excellent training sessions in the last three weeks and deserved that chance. He gets an opportunity that maybe he wouldn't have gotten before."
Defender Amobi Okugo
On the game...
"The last ten minutes we were down a goal and we can't take the tie, all we can do is win. Jack did a good job to get the goal and we tried to get the second one. We were playing two in the back and Nielsen played a good ball out and the following play they scored."
On not making the playoffs...
"Yeah, it's tough. We had a chance all the way through. We had chances to put away teams behind us earlier in the season and we failed to do that and then it caught up with us. Now we don't have any games left."
On the season and looking ahead...
"It all evens out in the end. There were games where we shouldn't have won and either Jack or Conor saved us, so I feel like it all evens out. But the coaching staff did a great job, we just failed to come to play in certain situations and hopefully we can come back next year and learn from that."
On what the team could have done better...
"Just be more accountable all across the positions from the back to the front line to the midfield. Just be more accountable, take blame on ourselves and everyone has to step up as a team."
Defender Ray Gaddis
On the team...
"We are a young team. We have a lot of positives coming out of this season and going into next season. If we take the positives from this season and apply it to next season we will be alright."
On ending the season on a loss...
"It's very disappointing. We were in the hunt all year and for us to lose like we did, it's heartbreaking a little bit. But you live and you learn."
On looking back at the season...
"We took it game by game but you are exactly right, there were so many games this season that if we would have just closed out the games actually probably wouldn't have been in this predicament. But that's neither here nor there. It's a long season and you gotta learn from stuff like that."
Forward Jack McInerney
On the importance of scoring goals the last few games for his confidence...
"It is good for my confidence now but either way next season hopefully I can come back and do what I did at the start of this year. I don't think it would have changed anything."
On the season ending today...
"I mean it's disappointing, obviously. I don't think really anyone expected us to even be here but we knew we had the talent and a couple finishes or stops here or there and we are easily in the playoffs. We just have to grow upon it and fix these mistakes."
On whether everyone in the locker room felt that they exceeded expectations...
"In the locker room I think we let ourselves down because obviously we wanted to win and we wanted to make it to the playoffs. That was the first goal. I think to other people we exceeded expectations and I think we kind of gave them hope at the beginning of the year because we were doing so well. I think overall we had a good year for what was expected."
On whether it's tough to come off the bench...
"It is but the first two years that's what I did, so I have been in the situation before. Antoine tired the guys out a little bit so it's kind of reverse roles and I think it paid off at the end."
On using this disappointment towards next season...
"You could have said the same thing last season because we were awful. I think we just let ourselves down and we didn't really learn from last year, although last year was much worse, we got better this year. But I think going forward we are good enough to be in the playoffs and we have to get results."