What happened?: For a long time, not much. It started to become apparent relatively early on that one team would accidentally score and open it up or we would be going for a penalty. Both teams came pretty close to creating a very likely chance or two after offsides. But with the Quakes holed up in their own half and lacking an edge when they left it, scoring opportunities were difficult to capitalize on.
Yet there were moments when Sporting fans had to hold their breath. Cade Cowell’s looping run into SKC’s box late in the game almost turned it upside down. But a Sporting defender blocked Cowell’s dangerous effort to prevent the Quakes from challenging goalkeeper Tim Melia. In fact, San Jose didn’t put a shot on target against Melia until the penalty shootout. Even then, Melia didn’t seem too upset.
Melia, possibly the best penalty shootout keeper in the history of soccer, I kid you not, saved Cristian Espinoza’s opener, watched Jackson Yueill skyward for the second time, and Sporting KC won as comfortable a penalty shootout as they come. Melia is now 7-0 in his career in penalty kicks.
So, did we learn anything?: It’s fair to be a little concerned that Sporting KC won’t be able to find the back of the net here, but they put up 18 shots on the night. Not a shot from great places or anything, but still a shot. Considering the fact that the Quakes are likely the last team they’ll face this postseason ready and willing to sit as deep as they did, it’s probably fair to call this a passed test rather than a disappointing performance.
Anyway, I must apologize. We talked a few times about a potential SKC run in this and completely left out that Tim Melia has dedicated his mind, body and soul since birth to being the best shootout goalkeeper the world has ever known and will ever know as one of these a strangely determined anime villain. It could be huge as we head into a best-of-three series where each tie is immediately decided by a penalty shootout.
What’s next?: Ooohhh boy. We had this tournament number one in our potential excitement rankings and we still feel good about it. Sporting KC will face their in-state counterparts St. Louis CITY SC in the first round. The atmosphere in each game will be wild. The different styles of each team are fascinating. And don’t forget we’re talking about the West Coast’s season-high in St. Louis and the West’s top scorer in the second half at Sporting KC. Get excited.