KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City punched their 2012 playoff ticket with a feat they hadn't managed in more than five years: a home victory over the Chicago Fire.
Sporting gave the Livestrong Sporting Park-record crowd just what they wanted on Friday night, beating the Fire 2-0 behind two goals from Graham Zusi and and Jimmy Nielsen's league-leading 14th clean sheet.
Sporting extended their season-high unbeaten streak to nine games, while Chicago had a four-match winning streak snapped and lost for just the second time in their last nine.
The match was physical and chippy all night, with 24 total fouls – 13 by Sporting – and two ejections in second-half stoppage time. Chicago manager Frank Klopas was given a straight red by referee Chris Penso, and left back Gonzalo Segares drew his second yellow.
OPTA Chalkboard: Sporting apply the forecheck in physical affair
Zusi was ferociously active on and off the ball all night, and it paid off handsomely in the 11th minute.
Kei Kamara drove past Segares into the right corner and sent a cross into the penalty area. Zusi, crossing from the left side, one-timed the ball into the lower right corner just vacated by Fire 'keeper Sean Johnson.
That gave Kamara his sixth assist of the year, matching his single-season best from 2010.
Kamara nearly doubled Sporting's lead on 36 minutes, snapping a header on frame off Zusi's corner kick, but Johnson made a reaction save off the underside of the crossbar to deny him.
The Fire didn’t create much in the first 45, with Chris Rolfe sending their only decent look wide. They got on the ball more in the second half, but ended up squandering a number of break-outs with poor decisions and poor touches.
Nielsen had to make just one save all night, an easy stop of Dominic Oduro's set-piece header in the 68th minute. He also had to go to ground in second-half stoppage time, to keep defensive midfielder Julio Cesar from tackling away the ball into his own net.
Moments later Zusi would apply the coup de grace. Six minutes into second-half stoppage time, he got loose as 10-man Chicago pushed up in search of the equalizer. He juked his way into position, then fired just inside the right post to seal the win with his fifth goal of the year.
It was Kansas City's first victory this season against Chicago, after a pair of one-goal defeats, and first home win against the Fire since the then-Wizards prevailed 3-2 on Aug. 22, 2007. The three critical points kept Sporting (17-7-7) within reach of a late Supporters Shield challenge – and, more importantly, gave them some breathing room atop the East standings. They’ll head to Columbus next Sunday for another Eastern Conference clash.
The Fire (16-9-5) stayed on 53 points, falling five back of Sporting but with a game in hand, which will come Wednesday when they host Philadelphia.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Graham Zusi||The first finish was pure class - lots harder than it looked. He's come to life since the move to the wing, and tonight was his best show.|
|2||Kei Kamara||Another guy who's made a living on the wing, but he's been doing it all year. Bottom line is that if you're going to beat KC, you have to match him physically.|
|3||Matt Besler||Can be physical when he needs to be, but relies more on brains and positioning. Adds a touch of composure to the supremely athletic KC backline.|