Monday, October 1, 2012

Sporting KC clinches spot in the postseason

Sporting Kansas City defeated the Chicago Fire 2-0 in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 21,000 fans at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Friday.

The victory secured a playoff spot for Sporting Kansas City, the first team to clinch a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, and put Sporting Kansas City just two points behind SanJose in the quest for the Supporters’ Shield.

Graham Zusi claimed both goals, increasing his tally to five this season, with the first coming in the 11th minute off of a cross from Kei Kamara and the second arriving in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time off of a low, right-footed effort past Sean Johnson.

It was a record-breaking night for Sporting Kansas City. Jimmy Nielsen recorded his League-leading 14th shutout of the season and Sporting Kansas City extended the club’s unbeaten streak to nine games, the longest run of any MLS team this season.

Sporting Kansas City’s 58 points lead the Eastern Conference, five clear of second-place Chicago, and set a new club record for a single season.

It was the visiting Chicago Fire with the first chance of the match coming in the sixth minute on a counter attack.

Sherjill Macdonald received a long ball deep in the right corner and crossed to Chris Rolfe, who shot from 18 yards out but was just wide of the near post.

Three minutes later, Sporting KC responded with a chance of their own from Paulo Nagamura. The Brazilian took a shot from the top of the box that was saved by Sean Johnson.

Johnson could do little two minutes later when the home side opened the scoring on a well-taken shot by Zusi. Kei Kamara created the chance with his run down the right flank  and played a low cross into the penalty area.

Zusi dashed to make contact and buried his first-time attempt from 15 yards out past Johnson. Kamara earned his sixth assist of the season, matching his single-season career high.

It wasn’t until the 31st minute that another chance materialized for either side, this time for Chicago in the form of a left-footed strike from Patrick Nyarko at the edge of the box that was high and wide of the crossbar.

On the opposite end, Zusi’s corner kick was played in perfectly to Kamara at the far post for the striker to connect on a close-range header in the 36th minute.

The Sierra Leone international directed his header on target but Johnson was there to make a formidable save, pushing the shot into the crossbar to prevent the goal.

The first 10 minutes of the second half were relatively quiet on both ends until the 57th minute when Rolfe sent in a volley from the top of the box that sailed narrowly high.

Sporting Kansas City fired back two minutes later when Zusi crossed in a low ball that was pin-balled around the box, finally settling with Kamara for a header that caught Johnson off his line.

However, the young goalkeeper still managed to snuff out the dangerous play with an alert recovery.

The home side was back at it again in the 63rd minute when C.J. Sapong charged down the left flank, cut the ball to Roger Espinoza. The Honduran crossed to Kamara, but his shot was collected by Johnson.

Chicago’s first shot on goal arrived in the 68th minute when Rolfe chipped in a free kick to the penalty area and the resulting header from Gonzalo Segares went straight to Nielsen.

Four minutes later and on the counterattack, MacDonald took a low shot at the top of the box that skirted wide of the far right post.

Sporting Kansas City was anything but content to sit back with a 1-0 lead, nearly netting a second goal in the 77th minute when Sapong tipped in a header that was saved by Johnson. Three minutes later, Chance Myers looked to claim his first MLS goal when he received a cross from Julio Cesar and flicked the ball with his head over the crossbar.

In the dying minutes of the match, the tension continued to build as Sporting Kansas City looked to hold onto their victory and break club history in the process.

Chicago head coach Frank Klopas was sent from the sideline by referee Chris Penso, who showed red to Segares a minute later for his second caution of the match.

It was Zusi who drove the victory home in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Myers long service was flicked by Sapong and fell to the feet of Zusi with ample space and options on either side.

Zusi controlled and maneuvered to just inside the area before unleashing a curling shot inside the post for his third career multi-goal game.

Sporting Kansas City will return to the road to face the Columbus Crew at 3 p.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 7 at Columbus Crew Stadium. The match will broadcast live on KSMO-TV, with coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT.