Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sapong’s last-minute goal earns dramatic 1-1 draw

Sporting Kansas City drew 1-1 with the Houston Dynamo in front of a sold-out crowd on Friday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

Down a goal with less than a minute remaining, C.J. Sapong claimed the equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time on a header assisted by Graham Zusi.

Sporting Kansas City, unbeaten in their last six MLS matches, remains in first place in the Eastern Conference with 51 points and are two points back of the San Jose Earthquakes in the Supporters’ Shield race with six games remaining in the regular season.

Zusi earned his 13th assist on the game-tying goal, putting him atop the League in the category on a night that saw Sporting KC record 28 shots, the most in a match in club history.

Kei Kamara led all players with 10 shots attempted, one shy of this year’s MLS high which he set earlier this season, and Sapong set a single-game career with nine shots of his own.

Sporting Kansas City opened the game on the front foot, with their first chance arriving in the opening 15 seconds. Paulo Nagamura floated the ball over Houston’s backline to Sapong, who went one-on-one with goalkeeper Tally Hall but couldn’t connect on the volley.

Just four minutes later, Sapong took Hall on once again, drew the ball back and passed back to Nagamura, who sent in a left-footed volley over the crossbar.

The visitors had a dangerous chance of their own in the 13th minute off of a left-footed, curling free kick over the wall from Brad Davis that narrowly missed the goal, skimming the side-netting.

Six minutes later, Aurelien Collin chipped a long ball to Kamara deep in the left corner. The Sierra Leone international made a short pass to Sapong, who turned on his heel, faked out his mark and took a hard, angled shot that breezed just past the far right post.

Sporting KC put the pressure on Houston once again in the 33rd minute when Matt Besler curled in a cross to Sapong inside the box. The 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year made a perfectly-timed stretch to meet the ball with his head, hammering in a shot on goal that was saved expertly by Hall.

Houston’s finest chance of the first half came in the 42nd minute when Corey Ashe drove the ball down the left flank and played a well-weighted through ball to Will Bruin.

Nielsen came off his line quickly to face the second-year striker and made a superb save to not only stop but hold onto Bruin’s left-footed shot.

Both sides entered halftime scoreless and returned to the field for the second half with a renewed fervor.

It was Houston with the first chance, when Bruin once again managed his way behind the Sporting KC backline and sent in a low drive that Nielsen scooped up.

The home side nearly bagged a goal in the 55th minute, instigated by a long throw-in from Besler. Sapong received the service and flicked to Kamara for a header that was on target but punched out for a corner by Hall.

Three minutes later, the Dynamo scored off of a powerful strike from 25 yards out from the veteran Davis following a methodical buildup of 11 consecutive passes.

The 2011 MLS MVP runner-up scored his seventh goal of the season after taking a positive first touch on the pass from Boniek Garcia and unleashed a left-footed strike that skipped inside the far post.

Sporting Kansas City responded in the 63rd minute when Kamara tipped in a header, forcing Macoumba Kandji to make an acrobatic save in the goalmouth.

Hall proved to be the man of the match for Houston when he valiantly defended the Dynamo’s goal against a series of shots that commenced in the 73rd minute when Kamara took an attempt from distance that was blocked by Hall.

His shot was followed six minutes later by a sailing header from Sapong that was just wide of the far left post.

Chance Myers then looked to claim his first career goal when he whipped in a direct header that was once again saved by Hall.

In dramatic fashion, Sporting Kansas City’s equalizing goal came in the third minute of stoppage time. Besler sent in a hopeful long-ball from inside his own half that Sapong won at the top of the penalty area.

Zusi settled and curled a chip toward the back post where Sapong was stationed to power his header past Hall for his sixth goal of the season.

With the draw, Sporting Kansas City matches last year’s point total with 51 points, and will now return to the road to face the New York Red Bulls at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at Red Bull Arena.

The match will be broadcast live on KSMO-TV and La Gran D 1340 AM.