The debate about Sporting Kansas City‘s streak of not allowing a shot on goal was firmly put to bed Wednesday in Vancouver as the Whitecaps peppered Jimmy Nielsen and the KC defense…
“The big difference for us tonight was the play of Jimmy,” KC boss Peter Vermes said after the game. “His saves at the end were tremendous and I think at the end of the day that’s what saved us…”
The home side tallied 17 shots with 7 of them on target, while KC managed only 2 on target for the night.
However both of KC’s on target shots resulted in goals. Plus they got some help from a timely own goal conceded by the Whitecaps to pull out the 3-1 victory and stay perfect.
In all honesty, it was the first time this season that KC’s back line was truly tested. And it was the first time the boys in blue have faced a team that came close to matching them in terms of physicality. From the opening whistle the bodies were flying.
Sporting set the tone right away, starting the game aggressively and pressing high all over the pitch and getting stuck in on challenges. Vancouver was content to do the same and seemed to rise and match KC’s intensity with their own physical play.
In the 4th minute ‘Caps French Designated Player Eric Hassli came in dangerously high and hard on Kei Kamara and took the Sporting winger down with a semi-straight boot. Kei looked to be in some serious pain for a scary minute or two, but eventually shook it off and returned to the game. The rough play escalated from there and by midway through the first half the game was a brawl.
I think Vancouver’s willingness to match KC physically stunned Vermes’ boys a little and kept them on the back foot for a good bit by pressuring the back line and sending three men forward with long through balls.
“They beat the crap out of us in Orlando,” said Nielsen of the two teams’ pre-season match. “We talked about that before the game. They’re a strong team, if we allow them to play, they’re a great team…”
But KC regrouped, doing what they do lately – feeding CJ Sapong up top to hold the ball and lay it off while KC builds in behind him. And winning corners. KC is a corner machine lately.
And it was a corner that provided the chance for KC’s Wild Frenchman Aurelian Collin to draw first blood in the 24th minute.
The initial corner from Graham Zusi deflected out and ended up back at his foot on the flank, so he curled it right back into the box where the ball bounced around and ended up in front of the goal. Collin was the first to react, sliding to beat the Vancouver defender and put the ball into the net to put KC up 1-0 at the half.
The opening of the second half proved a disaster for Vancouver as KC earned a throw in near the corner. Besler’s weapon landed inside the 6 yard box and took a
deflection off a defender before caroming into the goal to put KC up 2-0. The own goal turned the home crowd against their team and loud boos could be heard echoing through the stadium.
As Vancouver grew more and more desperate, Sporting did the humane thing and put the Canadians out of their misery in the 64th minute when Kei Kamara slipped the ball into the net off a perfect Chance Myers ground cross making it 3-0. KC announcer and token British guy Callum Williams may have said it best as
the home team scrambled to find anything positive out of the game: "Sporting Kansas City is teaching Vancouver a stern soccer lesson."
But it wasn’t over just yet. Remember the furious comeback last year that saw the Whitecaps come back from 3 goals to earn the draw, with two of the goals coming in added time? I know, you’ve tried to repress that horrible memory, but Vancouver hasn’t.
The Whitecaps stuck one of their own in the net with about 15 minutes left, setting up a frantic ending to the game. They pushed numbers forward and forced multiple quality saves out of Nielsen. But it was too little too late for the home side.
Up two goals with time running down, Vermes was able to insert several subs to give the regulars a bit of rest before the second leg of their west coast trip on Saturday at Portland. That included swapping out CJ Sapong in favor of Teal Bunbury, who I must say, looked particularly horrible. Granted, it was the end of the game, KC was somewhat bunkered, and Teal was basically alone up top. But his first touch seems to have actually gotten worse if that’s possible. He ran around looking completely lost, unable to hold up the ball or win head balls.
There was a debate about 5 games ago: CJ or Teal?
That debate is over and it’s not even close. Hopefully Vermes can find something for Teal to do, but I don’t know where he fits in other than up top in the middle, and there’s just no way CJ is letting up anytime soon.
What a great win for SKC. Despite failing to dominate as they have for most of this young season, the boys in blue gutted it out far from home and put three goals in the net (counting the own goal). It wasn’t all that pretty or clean, but it highlighted the fact the Sporting have grown from what they were last year.
“That’s the difference between this year and last year,” said Collin. “Last year we maybe we would have struggled or lost this game, but this year we win it.”