[MLS PLAYOFFS: Sporting KC-Colorado] First-year players Aurelien CollinandC.J. Sapongwere the unlikely heroes of the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals for Sporting Kansas City with the goals that clinched a second 2-0 victory over the defending champion Colorado Rapids and moved it into Sunday's conference final.
COLLIN'S CONTRIBUTIONS.Of the dozen Frenchmen who played in MLS this season, 25-year-old Aurelien Collincould be the only one still playing on Sunday. Although born and raised in France, he has spent his entire professional career abroad, playing in Scotland, Greece, Wales and Portugal before joining Sporting Kansas City in April. He has been an important addition to SKC's backline, allowing Julio Cesarto move into midfield. The Frenchie's offensive contributions can't be forgotten. He had three goals in the regular season and got free to score on a header to put SKC ahead in Wednesday's second leg.
SAPONG SHOWS WORTH.SKC coach Peter Vermesstarted the same 11 players who started Sunday's first leg in Colorado. Mexican star Omar Bravo did not play in the first leg after suffering a slight groin injury in practice on Saturday, and Vermes did not risk him the return game. The 10th pick in the 2011 SuperDraft out of James Madison, C.J. Sapong played every game in the regular season, scoring five goals and five assists, and again started in the second game. He showed his worth in the return leg, scoring the second goal.
INJURY CRISIS.Colorado never had a chance. No team has suffered such a rash of injuries in the playoffs as the Rapids have. They lostJamie Smith (torn right ACL) in the wild-card game against Columbus and striker Caleb Forlan (sprained knee and ankle) and defenders Kosuke Kimura (broken foot) and Drew Moor (separated shoulder) in the first leg of the conference semifinals against Sporting KC. Besides Smith, Kimura and Moor, the Rapids were without three other starters from the MLS Cup 2010 championship team: Conor Casey (out with torn Achilles' tendon since July), Anthony Wallace (out with a knee injury since August) and Pablo Mastroeni(concussion suffered in October).
CHAMPIONS EXIT EARLY.For the fourth season in a row, the MLS defending champion fell in the conference semifinals. Before Colorado, Real Salt Lake lost to FC Dallas in 2010, Columbus fell to Real Salt Lake in 2009 and Houston lost to New York in 2008. Not since the Dynamo in 2007 has an MLS champion repeated. The only other club to repeat was D.C. United in 2006-07.