Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sporting Kansas City improves playoff positioning with draw

Following a scoreless draw at the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, Sporting Kansas City maintains a three-point lead atop the Eastern Conference entering the final match of the regular season.

Sporting KC has secured home field advantage in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and can now clinch the conference’s top seed and the No. 2 overall seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs with a draw or win against the Philadelphia Union at 7:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.

Jimmy Nielsen made five saves for his 15th shutout of the season, second most in a single season in MLS history, and the team held New York’s high-powered offense scoreless for the second time this year at Red Bull Arena.

Saturday’s road result sees Sporting Kansas City become the sixth team in MLS history to earn 60 points in a single season, setting a new club record, and the club extended its MLS-best unbeaten streak to 11 matches with the draw.

New York opened the match strong, eager to respond a month after suffering their first home loss of the season in a 2-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena, but it was Sporting Kansas City with the first chance of the match.

C.J. Sapong beat goalkeeper Luis Robles to a through ball from Jacob Peterson in the 18th minute, but Robles recovered to tip the cross away from danger.

The Red Bulls were on the attack two minutes later, instigated by a corner kick from Thierry Henry. The ball found its way to the feet of Tim Cahill, who took a close-range shot but was denied by Nielsen.

Minutes later, Dax McCarty took a driving shot from distance that was knocked out expertly by Nielsen. Kenny Cooper pounced on the rebound and sent his tightly-angled shot high of the goal.

The Red Bulls were back at it in the 41st minute when Cahill directed a header to Cooper. The striker hit the ball on target and Nielsen parried it over the crossbar to keep the teams level entering at the half.

New York’s mission for three points was evident in the opening minutes of the second half, notably in the 50th minute when Lloyd Sam made a run at Sporting KC’s backline. He chipped the ball to Cooper in the box, forcing Nielsen to make another valiant save on the header.

The pressure from the home side continued as Cahill slid the ball across the box for Thierry Henry, whose attempt on goal was blocked by the fervently busy Nielsen.

In the 65th minute, New York nearly took the lead when Henry beat his marks and took a shot from close-range that was initially blocked by Nielsen and collected again by the former Barcelona man. He sent a dangerous ball across the goalmouth where Matt Besler smartly intervened.

In the 86th minute, Sporting Kansas City fired back with a chance of their own when Graham Zusi sent in a swinging cross to the wide-open Kei Kamara at the far post.  The Sierra Leone international placed his attempt low and on frame, but the effort was blocked by Robles.

Nielsen made his final save of the match in the 88th minute as McCarty tested him with a low, driving shot after playing off of Cahill at the top of the area.

Sporting Kansas City returns home to host Philadelphia in the regular season finale on Wednesday with the opportunity to repeat as the East’s top team for the second consecutive season.

The match will be shown locally on KSMO-TV and nationally broadcast on the NBC Sports Network (blacked out in Kansas City).