It definitely wasn't pretty. But, that was probably exactly the way that Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes had it planned. Speaking in Thursday's weekly press conference, Vermes made it known that Friday night's matchup with San Jose Earthquakes would be far more physical than any other battle they had encountered to this point in the 2011 MLS season.
Well, Vermes got exactly what he said he would. All night long Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart found himself in the middle of an Mixed Martial Arts octagon ring, trading blow for blow with Sporting KC centerbacks Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. Collin, particularly, was the main combatant that, while taking his own fair share of licks, really did a number on Lenhart. Collin sported an orange-size bruise on his bald head immediately following the game, while Lenhart couldn't have fared much better himself.
This game tape will not be used anytime soon for a Major League Soccer promotional video of "we play the beautiful game," and for good reason. There were a ton of fouls on each side - 11 against San Jose and 8 against Sporting. The leaders in fouls committed for each side? You guessed it; Lenhart and Collin.
Coming off a 4-1 victory at FC Dallas on Sunday, Vermes chose to dance with the date that brought him and stuck with very much the same Starting XI, making only two changes to his squad - both being side effects of red card suspensions. Jimmy Nielsen stepped back into goal and Omar Bravo came back into the side after missing Sunday's game due to injury.
On the other end of the field, things weren't quite as physical for the game's lone goalscorer. Rookie forward CJ Sapong routinely found himself in larger areas of open space than his counterpart Lenhart was afforded. Sporting probably tried the direct long ball route a bit much from my liking in this one, but Sapong didn't disappoint and showed many why he was selected to start over the likes of Teal Bunbury.
The goal didn't come until the 31st minute of proceedings, but Sporting had certainly been working hard to that point to make it so. The goal was already the fourth shot of the night for Sporting, just half an hour into the game. Midfielder Graham Zusi, coming off his two goal, man of the match performance against Dallas, perfectly placed a free kick from near the right sideline into the 6-yard box where Sapong, outstretched and nearly parallel to ground, wrapped his left foot around the ball in slid it past Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. It was Sapong's second league goal of the season and the first ever MLS goal scored inside LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
Sapong may not have scored a league goal since the 2nd minute of the season opener, but he has shown that he has a flare for the dramatic, timely goal. He also has scored three goals in two US Open Cup qualifiers this season, including an extra time winner on April 6.
Other quality performances on the night came from rightback Chance Myers and (somewhat - okay, completely) surprisingly, defender turned midfielder Julio Cesar Santos. Myers provided great width down the right side of attack all night, serving in good cross after good cross - something usual starting rightback Michael Harrington has struggled with much for much of 2011. And Cesar; well, what is there to say about Julio? In a new role - one that he made his debut in on Sunday - he has shown a new asset to the team. His comfort level on the ball, playing it out of the back is not an issue. It's been defending and stopping an attacker that has plagued him in his short time with KC. Perhaps this is a new role for the veteran Brazilian - one that he can grow into and flourish.
Though, Cesar looks to get another shot at starting at centerback Wednesday night against Philadelphia Union, as Collin will sit the game out, due to yellow card accumulation. But, after the tussle he got into on Friday night, I might have sat the big Frenchman a night anyway.
Man of the Match: In his third year in MLS, Besler has completely come into his own and shown the ability to be the "thinking half" of the central defense, with Collin being a bruising brawler. When the team chose to let Jimmy Conrad go in the offseason, that "thinker" role was left open. Since then, Besler has embraced the task wholeheartedly and excelled. Without his cover on Collin's physical challenges in this one, Simon Dawkins or Khari Stephenson spring loose and tie this game up. In fairness, though, this center half pairing is playing remarkably right now.