What a game for Sporting Kansas City, rallying back to win it at the death off of an Ike Opara header in the 97th minute. It was an ugly game, a game that neither deserved to win. Now Sporting is in great shape heading into the last 13 matches of the season, one point back on RSL in the Supporters Shield race and four points clear of Montreal and the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Things are looking up, but there were still some concerning moments from last night.
1) Jimmy Nielsen
It's no secret that Jimmy Nielsen has been blessed with one of the better defenses in the league in recent years. However any shot that has been able to pass through the defense has normally been stopped by Nielsen. Last night the goal scored by Real Salt Lake was the complete fault of Nielsen, who mishandled a punch out. Findley, of course, was there to score the header for the home side. Nielsen has looked weary this year, letting in some goals that are completely out of character for him. However he did have a great save late in the game to prevent RSL from taking the lead, which made me feel a little better.
2) The passing was atrocious (Or was it?)
We've seen games where Sporting has been nearly flawless with their passing. Last night was not one of those games. They continually lost the ball due to poor play to the side. Yet, Sporting still completed 77% of their passes which is about the season average for them against good teams like Real Salt Lake. There were some bad mistakes, such as Kei Kamara misreading several runs resulting in a pass going out of bounds. Sporting played well from a passing and possession standpoint, earning 58% possession against a possession team like RSL. That feat in itself is something to be commended.
3) Can we root for El Salvador now?
Aurelien Collin earned a yellow card in the second half after a reckless challenge going down the line. In other news the sky is blue. This yellow card, however, earned Collin his second suspension of the season for yellow card accumulation. He will miss the next match against the Montreal Impact, one of the better offensive teams in the league. With Matt Besler on international duty for the Gold Cup, Sporting will most likely be without both of it's starting center backs against Montreal. The most likely lineup is Opara and Olum in the center, unless the United States gets upset in either the quarterfinals or semifinals. Gulp.
4) Right where they want to be
Last night's win put Sporting back one point of Real Salt Lake in the Supporters Shield race and four points ahead of the Impact and the Red Bulls in the East. After winning three straight matches, Sporting has firmly put themselves back in the race for the top of the MLS and the Eastern Conference. There's a lot at stake for Sporting chasing their first Supporters Shield since 2004: A spot in the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League. They already missed their opportunity with the Open Cup and I'd like to get their spot wrapped up before the playoffs start.
5) Gut Check time
Sporting is now one-third of the way through the tough stretch of MLS elite in 2013. I said before the stretch that they need seven points from these three games to stay in the race. They gained three from the match I thought they would draw. They have a reeling Montreal next week and a home match with a beatable New York the week after. If Sporting can get a win and a draw out of these matches it will set them up nicely for the last matches of the season. This stretch, in my mind, will prove to be the most pivotal point of the season. If Sporting comes out of it with good results then they will be set up nicely heading into the final ten matches and the playoffs.