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MLS Features: Resilience the key to Sporting's Cup run

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Updated: 12/07/2013 10:03 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Too often, the word 'epic' is used in hyperbole, but that's the perfect way to describe Saturday's MLS Cup finale between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake.

The match had everything: physical play, a lot of fouls, a pair of brilliant goals and even one waived off in extra time for good measure.

Yet when Lovel Palmer's strike in the 10th round of the infamous penalty kick shootout rang off the crossbar, there was only one word I could muster to describe the newly-crowned champions.

Resilient.

Entering the season, Sporting was hailed as far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference having won the regular season East title each of the past two seasons. Peter Vermes' team had a pretty consistent regular campaign, racking up 17 wins and earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Not surprising given the amount of talent on the squad, but Sporting would have to exorcise some demons in the postseason to win its second title.

And that's exactly what the club did.

By virtue of their strong regular season, the club earned a first-round bye and met the up-and-coming New England Revolution in the conference semifinals.

Sporting entered the tie against the Revs with confidence, but things hardly went their way in the opening leg at Gillette Stadium as Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe scored second-half goals to give New England a 2-1 aggregate lead.

Not exactly the way Sporting envisioned things going.

But in the second leg behind their home fans at Sporting Park, the club roared to a 3-1 second-leg and 4-3 aggregate win on the strength of goals from Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic and Claudio Bieler.

Resilient.

After dispatching the feisty Revolution, the real test came in the conference finals against the Houston Dynamo -- the club that had knocked SKC out of the postseason in each of the last two years.

SKC and Houston played a cagey opening leg of the East finals as the match ended scoreless at BBVA Compass Stadium, setting SKC up with a chance to vanquish some demons at home in the second leg.

It appeared that Houston would again get the better of Sporting when Boniek Garcia scored just three minutes into the match. But Vermes' side responded quickly to get an equalizer in the 14th minute through C.J. Sapong.

Dominic Dwyer, who struggled with his finishing throughout the season, finally broke through for Sporting in the 65th minute to give the club a 2-1 lead and its first berth in an MLS Cup final since 2004.

Facing a strong Real Salt Lake team, Sporting would again need to dig deep in MLS's marquee event after Alvaro Saborio put the visitors in front in the 52nd minute.

But again, as they had done throughout the playoffs, Sporting didn't panic as the match crept into the final 15 minutes and used some excellent set-piece execution to find a leveler as Collin smashed a header into the net following a Graham Zusi corner kick, sending the 21,000-plus fans into euphoria.

As the match wore on, SKC appeared to get stronger, keeping more of the ball and getting the better of the chances, but they couldn't find a winner.

A penalty kick shootout will make any professional footballer nervous, but Sporting had some experience to draw on having won the 2012 U.S. Open Cup against Seattle Sounders FC in a shootout.

SKC had a chance to seal the shootout on their fifth shot, but Zusi rocketed it over the bar, yet Vermes' men shook off the miss, kept their heads down and were rewarded in spectacular fashion when Collin buried his strike and Palmer's attempt thunderously rang off the crossbar.

Resilience.

Sporting Kansas City, you have certainly earned the title.

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