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So close: Sporting Kansas City 3 (3), San Jose Earthquakes 3 (0)

Tim Melia throws Quakes out of playoffs in penalty shootout.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In their first playoff game in three years, the San Jose Earthquakes went down, came back to take the lead, but then conceded in stoppage time, and then scored an even later equalizer, before coming up blanks in a penalty shootout, failing to advance after a 3-3 draw through 120 minutes, after losing the shootout 3-0 against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park.

Tim Melia made three consecutive saves in the shootout to play the hero for Sporting, while San Jose’s bid to spring a postseason upset on the No. 1 seed came up just short.

Matias Almeyda made one surprise change in the XI, starting Shea Salinas in attack for the injured Andy Rios, who began on the bench. At left back, Marcos Lopez was in, the Peruvian apparently circumventing quarantine protocols after going on international duty with the league’s approval.

Sporting got to work quickly, scoring on their first corner kick of the game, courtesy of midfielder Roger Espinoza, whose near-post header sailed over JT Marcinkowski and in.

San Jose’s start was rough, but they calmed down around the 15-minute mark, and found an equalizer in the 22nd minute, with Carlos Fierro’s kick deflecting off Sporting defender Roberto Puncec and wrong-footing Melia in goal.

From there, the Earthquakes were clinical with their next look, in the 34th minute. A counterattack led to Cristian Espinoza crossing to Salinas, whose shot took a deflection off Puncec again on the way in, giving San Jose a 2-1 lead.

The Quakes’ 2-1 lead to begin the 2nd half evaporated immediately, as Sporting scored their second goal off a corner kick of the day in the 47th minute, Ilie Sanchez getting the final touch on the way in.

From there, it was an absolute battle, both teams having some looks but not much to really challenge for a goal, plenty of running, plenty of tough tackles on both sides.

The first subs of the game for both sides came in the 87th minute, with Almeyda bringing on Andy Rios and Cade Cowell for Salinas and Fierro.

In the 89th minute, Chris Wondolowski almost won the game, as his point-blank header from Nick Lima’s cross was saved by Melia, clanging off the crossbar from the save before being cleared away.

But Sporting had what they thought was the last word, as they came flying up the left wing a couple minutes later, with Khiry Shelton getting the ball in a scoring position and having the presence of mind to send a backheel to Busio, who scored the go-ahead goal in the 91st minute.

But referee Nima Saghafi gave San Jose plenty of time in stoppage to find an equalizer, which they duly did, courtesy of — who else? — Chris Wondolowski, scoring at the death to keep the game alive.

And so the game went to 30 minutes of extra time, the teams staying characteristically cagey in bonus soccer to keep the game in front of them while trying to find daylight in attack. Tight defense and tired legs meant chances were few and far between, with Cowell getting probably the best look, saved by Melia.

Eric Calvillo replaced Judson with a few minutes left in extra time, the Brazilian presumably gassed.

The game then went to a penalty shootout with the game finishing 3-3 through 120 minutes.

Johnny Russell scored first for Sporting, then Oswaldo Alanís’ attempt was saved. Ilie Sanchez scored next, before Jackson Yueill’s penalty was saved, putting the Quakes in a 2-0 hole. Khiry Shelton scored for Sporting in Rd. 3, and then Espinoza’s shot was also saved. And that was that.

It’s a disappointing blow to the Earthquakes, who took Sporting to the absolute brink but couldn’t finish the deal. They were strong throughout, never got down on themselves the whole match, but just didn’t have what they needed to get the job done in the penalty shootout.

We’ll have plenty of time to break down the season that was. Considering everything, this game was a great encapsulation of the season and we saw the Quakes never gave up. They nearly did it! And now they’ll have to get some rest and regroup in the offseason before trying to climb the hill in 2021.

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