Sunday, April 15, 2012

SIX STRAIGHT: Sporting Kansas City wins again

Sporting Kansas City stretched their winning streak to six matches to open the 2012 season with a 1-0 victory over Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake on Saturday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

Aurelien Collin scored the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute, heading home a corner kick from Graham Zusi, and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen recorded his MLS-best fifth shutout of the year.

The sell-out crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park would have to wait until the 31st minute to see the first chance of the match, when Bobby Convey had his shot saved by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Zusi's corner was hit long to the back post and gathered by C.J. Sapong, who laid the ball back for Convey but the winger’s shot was straight at Rimando.

Just a minute later, Fabian Espindola was at the end of the first chance for Real Salt Lake. Collecting a one-touch pass from Luis Gil, Espindola sped in behind the Sporting Kansas City backline but fired his shot wide of the far post.

Sporting Kansas City would have a goal disallowed in the 44th minute when Sapong was judged to have fouled Jamison Olave as the two players contested a cross from Convey. Sapong looped his header over Rimando from the backpost but  referee Kevin Stott waved it off to the dismay of the home crowd.

Undeterred, Sapong had another chance just after halftime. A free kick from Roger Espinoza was played in low through a cluster of bodies in the area, and was met by a sliding Sapong who diverted his effort just wide of the near post.

After nine corner kicks in the first half, Sporting Kansas City finally broke through in the game’s 63rd minute on a corner taken from the left side. Zusi curled a right-footed in-swinger into the area where Collin rose unmarked to power a header past Rimando from close range.

Zusi's assist, his sixth of the season, keeps him atop the League lead in the category, while Collin records his second of the season and sixth of his Sporting KC career in MLS competition.

Just over ten minutes later, Sporting Kansas City looked poised to double their lead  on another Zusi corner kick only to be denied by a superb save from Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Kei Kamara rose between two defenders inside the six yard box to win the header and direct it goal ward but Rimando reacted remarkably to push the attempt away.

Real Salt Lake ramped up their attack in the game's final 15 minutes in their search for an equalizer. Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson but sent attempts awry when given space to shoot and Jamison Olave drew a foul in the 91st minute that provided a late opportunity for the visitors to flood the box with bodies.

Kyle Beckerman delivered the lofted service from 45 yards out and Nat Borchers did well to snap his header on frame but Nielsen confidently collected the chance.

The shot on goal, Real Salt Lake's only such shot of the match, ended Sporting Kansas City's streak at 335 minutes without allowing an attempt on target and sets a new all-time best mark for MLS defenses.

Saturday’s match was the first of three games in an eight-day stretch as Sporting Kansas City will embark on a road trip to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday and Portland Timbers on Saturday. Both matches will air live on KSMO-TV.