St. Patty’s Day at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park offered the 20,000 plus in attendance more than just a green beer hangover and an Irish jig performed by two of the biggest, blackest leprechauns you’ve ever seen.
The place was juiced as the opening whistle blew, the heavy bass blasting on the sound system, nearly drowning out the chants from the sold-out Cauldron.
Head coach Peter Vermes even wore a suit, so you know it was a special night.
But despite the raucous crowd and the spiffy duds, Sporting seemed to come out a bit tentative. In the 5th minute KC carelessly gave the ball away in the back, which New England scooped up and blasted in a shot off that missed just wide.
New Sporting captain Jimmy Nielsen was irate as he screamed at his boys to get their heads into the game…
It must’ve worked.
Because after that KC simply dominated the visitors, outshooting them 27-11 when all was said and done. Just a few moments after Nielsen exploded on his un-focused team, Sporting broke to the other end of the pitch. New England keeper Matt Reis was forced to come out of his box after CJ Sapong outran a defender and sped to a 50/50 ball. Both players got there simultaneously, colliding in a heap as the ball bounced to waiting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza who fired a long floater that hit the post as Reis scrambled back.
After that, KC never let up, playing about as well as I can remember. Granted, New England is one of the worst teams in the league.
But first things first: CJ Sapong is a MAN. He ran at the defense all night, giving New England fits with his combination of size, strength, and speed. He’s improved his air game, as well as his ability to pressure the opposition’s defenders when they’re trying to knock it around the back.
Throw in Sapong’s work rate, which is phenomenal, and what you have is a reigning rookie of the year who looks like he’s taken some major steps since last season.
In the 14th minute Sapong forced the referee to show New England defender Stephen McCarthy a red card after he pulled Sapong down on a breakaway. It was a pretty obvious and blatant call, but New England head coach Jay Heaps thought otherwise.
"All these cards aren’t good for the league," said Heaps after the game. "It’s disappointing because we want to make it as competitive as we can. You come in and you want to have a competitive game."
After that- though the score was still 0-0 but the rout was on.
In the 29th minute, KC defender Seth Sinovic served in a cross that Kei Kamara collected at the far bar and shot hard. Reis did his best to deflect the close-range effort, but Graham Zusi came sliding in to clean up the mess and put Sporting KC up 1-0.
New England just kept unraveling.
In the 39th minute, new winger Bobby Convey played a smart 1-2 with Sinovic on the left side, finding Sinovic with space and time on the byline. He again found Kamara at the far post, who controlled the ball and struck a low hard shot that was initially rejected by Reis. But the rebound fell nicely to Kei, who volleyed the one-timer into the back of the net to put KC up 2-0.
In short, Sporting was playing just like they should be with a man advantage. And though the second half only saw one more goal tallied, KC easily could have (and maybe should have) scored another four. Yes, four.
In the 47th minute Sporting put the game to bed for good with a sweet little wall pass from Matt Besler, playing Sinovic into the box. Instead of greedily trying his luck, Sinovic cut it back to Sapong who side-footed an easy 6 yarder into the top of the net.
New England might as well have quit right then.
Even Chance Myers got in on the act, turning a NE defender completely inside out with step-overs in the penalty area, before letting the ball get a bit too far in front of him.
In the end, Sporting did everything they should have done. They connected probably 8 times as many passes as their opponent, outshot them by a ton, and were able to dictate everything thy wanted to do.
One negative did occur in the 85th minute when Sapong blew a breakaway by being too casual and slowing down too much, allowing Reis to push the shot out for a corner. That’s the kind of play that has to be finished. No excuses for that.
Needless to say, the KC locker room was all smiles after the game, with plenty of love for the fans on a great home opening night.
"What a great day," beamed Kamara. "The fans came out and we definitely feed off them. Great work from all the guys, getting the fans those goals. They come out here and show us so much love, we have to show them love back."
It’s a great result and a great start for Sporting who move to 2-0, but I’m not getting too excited just yet.
New England is one of the weakest teams in all of MLS, so anything less than what KC produced on Saturday would have been cause for concern.
That being said, Sporting are doing exactly what they need to do right now – racking up points. It’s a long season…