For a clash involving the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, it couldn’t have been set up more perfectly:
Sunday. 80 degrees. 3 in the afternoon. Grills smoking. Ring ceremony. Just about perfect.
And Sporting KC started about just perfect, as well. They were high pressing as far up the pitch as I’ve seen them. They were pressuring everywhere, even running down Columbus‘ keeper several times.
“Start to finish, an excellent performance by us,” said KC boss Peter Vermes after the convincing 2-0 win. “I think it’s the best performance of the year for us.”
In just the 9th minute, Sporting struck. Jacob Peterson got on the end of a ground cross from Chance Myers, that had first been struck by Paolo Nagamura, then deflected into his path. Peterson easily buried the point blank chance and raced to the Cauldron to celebrate.
Columbus couldn’t get much of anything together until about the 30th minute. They won a corner and the ensuing scrap resulted in a direct header from close range. Eric Kronberg did well to block the initial effort, and Matt Besler cleared it off the line as Columbus protested the call.
“(T)he one save that he made on the header from 6-8 yards out was a great save,” explained Vermes. “That keeps us in the game from a perspective of, we’re still driving.”
KC could have (should have) scored again a few minutes after that when Seth Sinovic found himself one on one with the keeper. But the Columbus keeper got a toe to the shot and forced it out.
The second half was a bit more even. About 15 minutes in, KC inserted Soony Saad in favor of Peterson. Saad had not appeared for KC in quite some time, due to national team duty with Lebanon.
But then the heat of the first hot day of the year got to both teams. The play slowed a bit, and Nags went out with what looked like cramps in the 78th minute in favor of new crowd favorite Alex Martinez.
“Going from playing in the 60s to the 80s is definitely a transition,” explained Peterson. “The first hot game of the year is always difficult for both teams. In the second half, I think you saw the game get stretched out because of that.”
The Crew went down a man moments later on a red card and that was pretty much that.
Just to make sure however, Sporting sealed the deal in the 94th minute with an absolute class ball from Grahama Zusi. He faked a shot from close range and softly dinked the ball over to a wide open Claudio Bieler who side footed it in.
“Zusi could probably have been a little selfish and maybe hit that thing but he played a great ball over to Claudio and builds his confidence as well,” said Vermes. “I think that’s the great team spirit of the guys. We really don’t care who scores, we just want to make sure that we get the three points.”
Next up for Sporting – an away match Saturday against the Montreal Impact.