Sunday afternoon’s game against visiting MLS leader San Jose was one that Sporting Kansas City absolutely needed.
After starting the season red hot, the boys in blue had not won a game in over a month. Their offense had been flagging and their defense was becoming more and more prone to suffering breakdowns at the worst possible moments.
On Sunday in front of a sold out LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, KC flashed back to their early season form- at least for the first half- and pulled out an important 2-1 win.
But before we get into that, let’s just get something out of the way right now: the officiating was miserable. Total nightmare. At one point in the second half the ref called a drop ball after Zusi was taken down near the edge of the box. No idea why. And that was after he walked around for five minutes and talked to his assistant, had a chat with nearly every player on the field, and, I’m guessing, consulted a magic eight ball.
Back to the game.
San Jose wasn’t quite to full strength, missing their goal scoring machine Chris Wondolowski to US Men’s Team duties. KC was without winger Bobby Convey, who was injured in practice on Friday. He’s been somewhat ineffective this season despite starting every game, so this injury allowed KC manager Peter Vermes to sit the veteran without having to impose a demotion that could sap more of his confidence. Plus it was great to see the super-athletic trio of CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara, and Teal Bunbury teaming up together in the attack, something that has been rare thua far this season.
"I just think pressing-wise, the three guys up top are very good with Espinoza and Zusi behind them," Vermes said after the game. "I thought we put them under a lot of pressure and created a lot of chances."
From the opening whistle, KC looked like the confident team they had been for the first month and a half of the season. Their body language was better and they pressed with energy, putting San Jose’s back line under fire numerous times in the first 10 minutes of the game. Kei seemed to get his mojo back and was especially active after a lethargic last couple games.
And the pressure paid off in the 5th minute when CJ Sapong scored one for the ages, a one-timer left footed volley off a bending cross from Kei Kamara. Zusi started the play when he worked to win back a ball that he had carelessly lost, then charged through the midfield before feeding Kei on the flank.
From that point on San Jose struggled to hold the ball and put very little into going forward.
In an unfortunate twist, about 15 minutes later an already one-handed Seth Sinovic had an awkward run-in with the signage behind San Jose’s goal. He pushed a ball a bit too far in front of him and it crossed the end line, but his momentum smashed him into the board, cartwheeling the fullback partially over the wall. He emerged with a badly cut hand that ended up needing 20 stitches, had to leave the game and was replaced by Michael Harrington.
While Harrington was a bit of a downgrade compared to Sinovic, he assisted on Sporting’s second goal by sending a nice ball into a wide open Kei who put away the header.
Sporting’s chances continued to come fast and furious, with at least three or four real legitimate scoring chances as they outshot San Jose 11-2 in the first half. I think it’s fair to say that their lead should have been at least 3-0 at halftime, maybe 4-0.
Despite their dominance in the first half though, KC again couldn’t keep the same mentality in the second half. Vermes’ boys packed it in and abandoned their aggressive first half style, a tactic that has paid them little to no dividends in the last few years. But apparently Vermes thinks differently because KC consistently does this, sometimes with disastrous results. (Remember Colorado?)
Like clockwork San Jose began driving the game, imposing their will on KC. After controlling possession for the first 25 minutes of the second half, San Jose finally tallied a goal in the 71st minute to make the score 2-1 and set up a frantic final 20 minutes.
But Sporting held on, denying many good chances for San Jose, other than a long blast that saw KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen make a diving save to his right.
"I felt that, if you look at both halves, Kansas City outplayed us the first half," said San Jose coach Frank Yallop. "We felt lucky to be at 2-0 [at half]. What I told the players at halftime was that the game could go one of two ways. Either it will end up 4-0 or we could make a game of it. To be honest, I think we made a good game of it."
It’s true, San Jose did make a good game out of it but it never should have been that close.
Nevertheless KC is happy to get back to their old selves and pick up a huge three points.
"Everybody knew where we were at and our past four games haven’t been that good," said Kei. "I thought everyone came into the game with great focus. The crowd really pushed us and that was the energy we took into the game that gave us the three points today."