Sporting Kansas City went into Friday night's massive clash with the Chicago Fire looking to prove that they were the best team in the Eastern Conference and that is exactly what they did. Graham Zusi notched a brace in a 2-0 Sporting win that didn't just vault the home side five points clear of their nearest challenger in the East, but also clinched them a playoff spot.
The over-capacity crowd of 21,010 at Livestrong Sporting Park had the stadium rocking before kick, but it was the Fire who came out of the gates fast. In fact, they would have gone ahead early on if Chris Rolfe had been able to finish a beautiful Chicago move.
But Rolfe missed and by the 11th minute the Fire were behind. A gorgeous first touch and turn by Kei Kamara freed him down the right and put the Chicago defense in trouble. Kamara worked into the attacking third before crossing for Zusi, who was coming across at full speed from the left. Still, Zusi was able to find the net with his first touch, curling the ball past Sean Johnson with a gorgeous finish that he made look much easier than it was.
Sporting didn't take their foot off the pedal just because they were up a goal either. They pressured Chicago high up the field and completely took the Fire out of their game. The visitors couldn't do anything with the ball and looked slow in everything they did.
It wasn't as if Kansas City was especially good going forward. They had their chances and did force Johnson into one excellent save that he pushed off of the crossbar, but the ingenuity in the final third wasn't there.
After the hour mark, it looked like SKC's inability to create chances might bite them. They expended so much energy trying to pressure defensively that they tired and Chicago started to get into the match. The Fire got more of the ball and began to get opportunities to even out the match some.
But Chicago's chances of a comeback disappeared in stoppage time when Gonzalo Segares was sent off for his second yellow card. A minute later, Zusi added his second goal and Sporting were going to the playoffs.