Sporting Kansas City opened their new stadium last week in front of a sell-out crowd, but were unable to score any goals. The game ended 0-0, begging the question, "Who is going to score the first MLS goal in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park?"
That question was answered in the 31st minute on Friday night by rookie striker CJ Sapong, who finished off a Graham Zusi set piece by flying horizontally through the air and getting his left boot to the ball, knifing it past San Jose keeper, Jon Busch.
"It was something we’ve been working on for quite some time," said KC coach Peter Vermes of the goal. "We have guys that we feel like if they get to the right places, they can stick the balls in the back of the net. That goal that CJ scored, I only saw it once but I would say that was an incredibly athletic goal to be able to basically be parallel in the air to the ground."
"From the second it was hit, I knew I could get my head to it, but he was holding me back so I just stuck my foot out, and it went in," said Sapong.
Truth be told, Sapong gave the San Jose defense fits all night with his size and speed. When he is alone in space it seems effortless to simply push the ball and run past defenders.
And at the end of the night, Sapong’s one goal was enough to secure the win for Sporting, who have not yet allowed a goal on their home turf. Overall, the game was a back and forth affair, with both sides creating decent opportunities.
The crowd of 18,000 and change provided a great atmosphere to inspire their boys to gut out a win. Probably even better than on opening night, June 9th. While there were some empty seats this time around, most attendees seemed to be there more for the soccer game and less for the spectacle of the stadium. As Sporting battled to hang onto a 1-0 lead toward the end of the game the crowd provided a palpable spark that was somewhat absent on opening night.
And don’t think opposing players aren’t taking notice of KC’s new home with a hint of jealousy.
"It’s awesome, it’s fantastic," said San Jose’s Jason Hernandez of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. "I think it’s – without really taking a whole tour of it – it looks like the best stadium in the League and that’s topping Red Bull Arena. And that’s a very nice arena. I think it’s a fantastic stadium and it sets the bar high for the teams coming in here now."
So maybe Robb Heinemann’s wish comes true and the stadium serves as a great recruiting tool to lure foreign talent to KC. We’ll see, I guess.
All in all, Sporting are looking more like the team we thought they could be before the two month exile.
And most of the credit goes to KC’s back line, who have, little by little, turned from the Achilles heel into the real strength of this team. Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have learned to complement each other nicely, with Collin playing the role of the physical intimidator, and Besler positioning himself to clean up anything that gets around Collin.
Vermes, a former center defender himself, seems like he has finally found what he was so desperately searching for the past few seasons in Collin. And he certainly didn’t hesitate to heap praise on the young Frenchman who was given the task of shutting down San Jose’s most explosive player, Steven Lenhart, who had a hat trick in his last game.
"Collin was an absolute beast," remarked Vermes. "He matched up with (Lenhart) most of the time. He did an excellent job. It’s a man’s game and the two of them played like men."