After enduring absences from a half dozen of their regulars over the last month or so due to international duty, Sporting KC finally was able to field their “A” lineup on Saturday night.
Soony Saad got the nod up top, in for suspended CJ Sapong. And Benny Feilhaber was replaced with Lawrence Olum, who dropped into the Julio Cesar role from last year. Both Saad and Olum played well – Saad was probably the man of the match.
His long, diagonal ball to Kei Kamara in the first half got behind the defense, where the Sierra Leone international deftly controlled it and then absolutely rocketed the ball into the side netting to put KC up 1-0.
Though Saad didn’t get a goal himself, he was trouble for Columbus all night, and he seemed to be popping up on nearly every dangerous Sporting attack all night.
“I think he proved today that he can play on this level here,” gushed KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen. “Outstanding. Brilliant. I am very, very happy for him.”
I’m happy too, because Saad brings a level of creativity to the game that has been sorely lacking for KC. For example, in the 10th minute off a quick corner restart, Soony was involved in a tricky little play that saw a short ball played across the box, then laid in front of Saad for a low shot that just missed the far bar.
To be sure, part of obtaining the comfort level necessary to really open up and play creatively comes from aggression, from imposing a style on the game. And Sporting was looking much more fiery than they had in quite some time.
Unfortunately, as soon as the second half started, all that energy and smart play was sapped, and Sporting regressed a bit. Just two minutes in they let streaking Columbus striker Jairo Arrieta carry the ball from his own half all the way into the penalty area. Normally solid Matt Besler made a last second (and probably unnecessary) lunge, but missed. One-on-one with Nielsen, Arrieta slotted home the equalizer.
“We actually had five guys, one that was already back and the other four were chasing and, you know, it wasn’t good,” said a disgusted Peter Vermes afterwards. “It wasn’t good at all. It was terrible, actually.”
But then, just a minute later, the momentum swung back. Claudio Bieler finished a nice bouncing ball in the box, putting KC back up one. Class finish on a waist high ball that El Taca struck clinically, keeping it low and focusing on placement over power.
As if on cue, just a minute later KC broke down again. To be fair, this time it was squarely on the shoulders of Seth Sinovic, who misplayed a soft ball back to Nielsen. The ball didn’t have enough power on it and an opportunistic Columbus striker slipped in and finished the absolute gift of a goal. Sinovic hung his head and was subbed out shortly thereafter.
I think this may be the beginning of the end for Sinovic in KC. While he is generally serviceable at the back, he is not overly athletic, nor is he a great server of the ball – both traits that Vermes values greatly in his wing-backs.
With the score knotted at 2 apiece, Sporting continued to press and create some dangerous opportunities. KC finally got what it deserved in the 80th minute after Columbus botched a clearance that found the head of Bieler, who nodded the ball down to Kei. Kamara finished easily the point blank chance for his second of the night.
“I tell him all the time, when he runs off the ball, I don’t think there’s a player in the league that is as dangerous or there is a player that can stop him,” said Vermes. “His movement off the ball? I mean, how are you going to stop a 6′ 3″ guy that’s coming at you who can absolutely fly down the field and then if you look at the first goal? His touch? It was a great ball, no doubt, but if his first touch is a little to the left or a little too much to the right… the defender gets it. And that finish just about ripped the net off. When he’s moving like that? I’m telling you, nobody can stop him.”
With the win Sporting moves into 2nd in the East. The boys in blue face a quick turnaround with another home match on Wednesday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
If KC can keep the same attacking mentality they had against Columbus for the rest of the season, there’s going to be some entertaining soccer in KC the second half.