Sporting KC’s Matt Besler, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando preview 2013 MLS Cup

Third time is indeed the charm for Sporting Kansas City. After the Houston Dynamo knocked them out of the Major League Soccer playoffs the previous two years, Sporting KC upended the two-time defending Eastern Conference champs with a 2-1 victory on Saturday in the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals.

The coldest match in MLS history started off with a bang for the visitors, when Oscar Boniek Garcia gave Houston a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game.

“Gosh, I wasn’t expecting that, that’s for sure,” Sporting KC central defender Matt Besler said on Counter Attack on Monday.

“Almost in a way, it kind of took some pressure off of us,” Besler told former MLS champions John Harkes and Tony Meola. “We hadn’t beaten these guys in the last two seasons and we finally had them where wanted, back at home, 0-0 aggregate. When that happened, it allowed us to just go out and play our game. Looking back, I’m kind of glad it happened. In the third minute, at least.”

His team responded quickly, as C.J. Sapong tied the game 11 minutes later. And when Sapong scores, Sporting KC is 17-0-2.

“We need to start feeding him some more crosses then,” Besler joked. “He does a lot of different things for us, physically, with us being able to play the ball up to him and him holding it up and flicking balls on off the long balls and goal kicks.”

Like Sapong, midfielder Benny Feilhaber was crucial to Sporting KC’s eventual win, assisting Dominic Dwyer on the game-winning goal in the second half.

“When Benny plays well, Sporting Kansas City plays well,”  Besler said. “When he plays consistently … it puts our team at a different level.”

Sporting KC’s opponent following their win over Houston? Real Salt Lake.

Real’s goalie, Nick Rimando, joined Meola and Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl on Counter Attack Tuesday to recap his team’s two-leg 5-2 Western Conference finals win over the Portland Timbers.

“It feels great. We came out with the right attitude,” Rimando said. “We knew they were going to press us and they have some special players who can make special plays. I thought our team was organized and put a very professional performance on.”

One of the heroes for Real Salt Lake was forward Robbie Findley, who scored two goals in the playoffs — both against Portland — after scoring six goals in 25 regular season games. Now healthy, he’s a dangerous weapon for Salt Lake.

“He’s that player we haven’t had for a while. [He] likes to get behind the ball, [has] that speed that you can’t teach. He’s an outlet for us when we’re in trouble,” Rimando said. “We know when he’s on form, he’s one of our best players. In the playoffs, he seems to come alive.”

Both Real and Sporting will have to wait some time before hitting the pitch, though. For the second year in a row, MLS has a two-week break between playoff games.

“I don’t like it. As players we want to knock them out,” Besler said. “But we knew this was going to be the case all along.”

The Cup will be held in Sporting KC’s home field, something the them focused on all season long.

“Our goal was: If we didn’t win the Supporters’ Shield, we wanted to get the second-most points,” Besler said, “because that would give us a shot at hosting the MLS Cup.”

Playing on the road doesn’t faze Rimando, though.

“I kind of like it being in Kansas City. We do well when we’re the underdogs. We go into places and have proven that we can get results in other team’s stadiums, in front of their fans,” Rimando said. “I think it gives us a little boost and motivation to go into somebody else’s stadium and take that trophy away from them.”

A week after the game, it will be wedding bells for Besler. And the timing wasn’t a coincidence, as Besler told his fiancee they couldn’t get married until after the final game.

“She goes, ‘Why? The last game of the regular season is in October.’ I go, ‘No, no, MLS Cup is Dec. 7th. I have a good feeling we’re making it this year.’”

Catch analysis leading up to the game from U.S. Soccer Hall of Famers John Harkes and Tony Meola, as well as more of the top minds in soccer, on SiriusXM FC’s Counter Attack.

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