Sporting Kansas City are the new MLS Cup Champions, having defeated Real Salt Lake on penalties at the coldest edition of the championship match in its 18-year history.
Conditions for the MLS showpiece game, held at KC's Sporting Park, were not ideal — the mercury was hovering at around 18°F at kick off and dipped to a thoroughly polar 7°F with wind chill, with players on both sides finding it hard to get traction on the frozen surface.
It was also just the second game that each team had played in the past 28 days, another factor which led to a physical-yet-tepid first half, with little interesting action to speak of (even the MLS seemed to suggest one of the highlights was a man being carried off). In the first 45, it felt more like a League Cup tie in Stoke on a cold Tuesday night than a major cup final.
However, it was truly a game of two halves, which came alive in the 52nd minute when Real Salt Lake's Costa Rican striker Álvaro Saborío broke the deadlock. The highlight of the goal — and perhaps of the entire match — was the sublime no-look pass that Kyle Beckerman produced to set it up:
RSL were unlucky not to go even further ahead when Beckerman and Javier Morales both had chances hit the woodwork, but French defender Aurélien Collin equalized with a header in the 75th minute in front of home fans in the not-as-warm-as-it-sounds "Cauldron" behind the goal.
With a scoreline of 1-1 after 120 minutes, the game went to penalties — the exact scenario RSL found themselves in at the 2009 MLS Cup Final. Unlike that match, however, the Royals weren't able to settle it from 12 yards.
The shooutout went to a ridiculous ten rounds with three misses from each team before Jamaican defender Lovel Palmer hit the bar with the 20th spot kick, gifting KC their second MLS Cup, and their first in the Sporting era.
The best and most significant penalty was probably the one taken by the game's MVP Aurélien Collin, who hit the side netting beautifully to win the final sudden death round. As The Guardian's Paolo Bandini inferred on Twitter, it was a pretty slick finish for a team's tenth penalty taker. But, if he hadn't scored, we would have seen 'Casino' Jimmy Nielsen and RSL keeper Nick Rimando step up to the spot, and who doesn't love seeing goalkeepers taking penalties?
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