Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sporting KC wins again, jumps up to first place in Eastern Conference

Defender Aurelien Collin scored the game-winning goal in the 13th minute with his header following a Graham Zusi corner kick and Jimmy Nielsen made three saves for his 37th regular season MLS shutout to tie Tony Meola for the most by a KC goalkeeper in club history.

Sporting KC (4-1-2) won for the third straight match and will take a five-game unbeaten run into Saturday's meeting with the MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy.

Coming off 12 days rest, Sporting Kansas City started strong on Wednesday with a chance from Designated Player Claudio Bieler in the seventh minute. The Argentine striker - who entered the match with goals in back-to-back games and four goals on the season - found room on the right side of the penalty area and sent a shot across the goalmouth but couldn't connect with the darting run of Sapong.

Two minutes later, Sapong was again looming near the New York net following a deflected clearance by Dax McCarty. Red Bulls defender Jamison Olave intervened at the final moment with a sliding tackle to block the shot out for a corner.

The game's lone goal came as a result of corner kick earned by outside back Seth Sinovic, who settled the service from Oriol Rosell near the edge of the penalty area and pushed the ball between the legs of Brandon Barklage as he cut inside. His shot from 20 yards out was on target and pushed over the crossbar by Luis Robles to set-up the pivotal set piece.

Zusi, who leads MLS with 35 corner kicks this season, delivered a driven cross to the near post where Collin muscled off Olave and sent his header past Robles from eight yards out. The goal was Collin's eighth in MLS competition (playoffs included) and first since April 2012, while Zusi collected his League-leading third assist on the year to move into sole possession of third place in team history with 11 game-winning assists all-time.

New York responded in the 16th minute with a set piece opportunity of their own. Nielsen came off his line to punch away a free kick from Juninho and the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year was called into action again to turn away Thierry Henry's shot on the rebound.

Free kicks continued to create scoring opportunities for both sides in the back-and-forth match, as Zusi picked out Sapong on a set piece in the 21st minute. The 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year broke free from his mark but couldn't direct his header on frame from the top of the six-yard box.

Nielsen proved pivotal again at the 30-minute mark with his second save on the night. Juninho's pass from midfield sprung Fabian Espindola on the left side with room to run. He cut inside and unleashed a shot that Nielsen smothered to preserve the visitors' one-goal lead.

Sporting KC endured nervous moments in the 35th minute following a free kick from Juninho that was loose inside the six-yard box. Chance Myers reacted first to send the ball over the endline and away from danger.

The home side continued to press forward at the start of the second half in search of an equalizer as Henry sent his left-footed shot wide from 20 yards out in the 48th minute.

Zusi led the Sporting KC counter in the 56th minute, avoiding the challenge of Heath Pearce and splitting two defenders with a pass to Paulo Nagamura inside the penalty area. Robles rushed off his line and made the kick save to deny Nagamura the chance to double Sporting KC's lead.

The Red Bulls best scoring opportunity came in the 63rd minute as Henry broke free with only Nielsen to beat. With Sinovic rushing to the scene to assist, the Frenchman pushed his shot wide of the right post from 15 yards out.

Collin's aerial prowess was critical in the 73rd minute as Ruben Bover's pinpoint service to the backpost was destined for Espindola and Henry if not for the disruption by the MLS All-Star.

Zusi asserted his influence on the match throughout the victory, including a shot from beyond the box in the 76th minute that tested Robles and forced a diving save to the goalkeeper's left. Robles remained busy seven minutes later, sprawling in the opposite direction to turn away an effort from distance by Sapong.

New York's final shot on target came from the right foot of Juninho in the 85th minute. The 25-yard attempt troubled Nielsen, forcing a rebound which the Sporting KC captain recovered in time to fall on before Henry could capitalize.

Juninho's frustration boiled over in the 91st minute and New York was reduced to 10-men when the Brazilian was sent off for striking Nielsen with the ball prior to a goal kick.

It was the first red card shown in a Sporting KC match this season and following six minutes of stoppage time, referee Allen Chapman blew the final whistle in Sporting Kansas City's 1-0 triumph.

Sporting Kansas City, now unbeaten in their last five matches against New York, will travel across the country to complete their road trip on Saturday at the LA Galaxy.

The match, featuring two of the four MLS teams qualified for the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League, will kick off at 9:30 p.m. CT live on the NBC Sports Network and La Gran D 1340AM.