Remember when Sporting Kansas City were the joke of MLS? First, their name was the butt of every joke because apparently they were a sporting club that only played one sport. Then, they had to play the first half of the season on the road because their new stadium wasn't done yet, although that might have been an improvement over the minor league baseball stadium they used to call home. Finally, they were losing at an astonishing rate and when they finally got to play a home game in June, they were last in the Eastern Conference. If you wanted an easy joke, Kansas City was where you went for them.
The day that Livestrong Sporting Park opened though, things changed for Sporting. They had arguably the best stadium in the league that was regularly full and loud, but most importantly, they were winning. They drew their two matches before opening their new home and that turned out to be the start of a 14-match unbeaten streak. With their trio of top strikers, Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong, and the surprising Graham Zusi behind them, Sporting rocketed up the table. By the time the season ended, Sporting were atop the Eastern Conference. It was a shocking turnaround for the blue side from the Midwest and one that has them eying a spot in MLS Cup now.
Sporting's road to MLS Cup starts with the Colorado Rapids, who have already had their piece of MLS Cup glory. They shocked the league with a run from wild card to champions a year ago, a road they began their travels down again this season when they took down the Columbus Crew in their wild card match on Thursday night.
As lovely as a win in the wild card round was for the Rapids though, it was hardly encouraging. Kosuke Kimura was strong and fed Omar Cummings for their lone goal, but aside from that, they didn't show much else in the way of attack. Under the reasonable assumption that Sporting's deadly attack can generate a goal or two, Colorado will need some sort of attack and it's tough to see where they're going to get one from.
All the while, Kansas City will be causing havoc for Colorado. Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz make up the best defensive midfield pairing in the league and they will be able to keep the wraps on Zusi, but the Sporting midfielder can always drop deeper and initiate the attack beyond Mastroeni and Larentowicz's reach. Toss in the opportunistic Sporting forwards and the threat Kansas City is on set pieces, either with Zusi's dead balls or Matt Besler's long throws, and the Rapids wil be in trouble.
Awaiting the two sides in the second leg will be a loud and packed house at Livestrong Sporting Park sure to spur Kansas City on. Asking the Rapids to get a win there is a little much, meaning just a first leg win in Colorado is almost completely necessary to give the Rapids a chance of advancing. Unfortunately for Colorado, that seems like a bit of a reach, but then again, their entire playoff run last year was a bit of a reach and it ended with a trophy.