Sunday, August 12, 2012

What a week: After winning U.S. Open Cup, Sporting KC back in first place after beating New York

Sporting Kansas City defeated D.C. United by a 2-1 scoreline in front of the second-largest crowd of the season at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Saturday.

The win moves Sporting Kansas City into first place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the New York Red Bulls, with 10 games remaining in the regular season.

The home side scored early with a close-range header from Teal Bunbury in the 13th minute. Graham Zusi provided the assist, his MLS-leading 10th of the year, and would then score game-winning goal in the 63rd minute.

The two sides started the match fiercely, exchanging five shots inside the first eight minutes.

Jimmy Nielsen made his only save of the night in the fifth minute to deny Chris Pontius and three minutes later D.C. United defender Brandon McDonald sailed his shot high after a nice piece of combination play with Long Tan at the top of the penalty area.

Sporting Kansas City’s breakthrough began with a Matt Besler throw-in from the left sideline in the game’s 12th minute. Aurelien Collin won the ensuing header over McDonald and forced a fingertip save from Bill Hamid to push it over the crossbar.

Zusi directed the resulting corner kick to Bunbury, who placed his glancing header from eight yards out inside the far post for his fifth goal of the season and third in the past five MLS matches.

Sporting Kansas City continued to press three minutes later when Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara played a quick one-two and Kamara sent in a low, angled shot that was just wide of the far right post.

In the 20th minute, Bunbury played the ball to Zusi in the center for a shot from 20 yards out. Hamid sprawled to make the save, one of three in the first half.

D.C. United fought back and equalized in the 23rd minute when Andy Najar, Espinoza’s teammate on the Honduran National Team, sent in a floating cross to rookie Nick DeLeon at the far left post. DeLeon took one touch and sent the ball past Nielsen with a sliding finish from inside the six-yard box for his fourth goal of the year.

Sporting Kansas City would hold D.C. United without a shot for the remainder of the half, and only two more attempts in the entire match, while controlling nearly 63% of the possession.

In the 38th minute, Bunbury again acted as the play-maker, holding off his mark and playing the ball to Paulo Nagamura. The Brazilian’s curving shot beat Hamid but was saved by the woodwork at the far right post.

Just two minutes later, Zusi sent in a free kick from the right that Michael Thomas connected with at the penalty mark and headed toward goal only to see Hamid made another strong save, diving to his right to deflect the goal-bound shot.

The second half would see more of the same attacking soccer from Sporting Kansas City. The first noteworthy chance came in the 53rd minute when Bunbury sprinted to keep the ball in play, sending a first-time cross at the endline. Zusi’s precise volley looked destined for the back of the net but struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced backed into play.

Zusi wouldn’t be denied ten minutes later, putting his team ahead for good. Kamara received a long ball over the top from Matt Besler, who earned his first assist of the year on the play, and Kamara picked out Zusi all alone at the backpost.

Zusi settled the cross and fired his shot beneath the out-rushing goalkeeper for his third goal of the year, all of which stood up as game-winning goals, and ninth goal of his career. 

Despite being down a goal, D.C. United would manage only one shot in the game’s final 30 minutes. Danny Cruz would have the honors in the 86th minute but scuffed it wide after receiving the pass from fellow second-half substitute Marcelo Saragosa.

Saturday’s win was Sporting Kansas City’s fourth straight over D.C. United, sweeping the season series in 2012, and came in Manager Peter Vermes’ 100th MLS regular season match at the helm of the club. The milestone moves Vermes into a tie with Ron Newman for the second-most regular season games by a manager in club history.

Sporting Kansas City will return to the road to face Toronto FC at 3:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, August 18 at BMO Field. The match will be broadcast live on KSMO-TV with pre-game coverage beginning at 3 p.m. CT.