It took Graham Zusi's late-game heroics to seal a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids Saturday night at Sporting Park in front of a sold-out, 19,579 crowd.
Sporting Kansas City entered Saturday evening's contest having lost four out of their last five league matches, a stretch that included three shutouts and six goals conceded. Colorado took the pitch on a hot streak, having not dropped a decision since June 23rd. Looking to stay in the hunt for the Supporter's Shield and among the top three in the Eastern Conference, manager Peter Vermes shook up the starting XI.
Changes included Dom Dwyer's first-career MLS start. Dwyer was given the nod over a struggling Claudio Bieler who has been scoreless since July 13th. Sporting Kansas City also welcomed midfielder Paulo Nagamura back into the lineup. Nagamura had missed the last 10 league matches due to an ankle sprain suffered in June 22nd's draw in Dallas.
Tactical was the mindset early-on for Sporting Kansas City. The home side jumped out to an early dominance of possession, using both flanks as a means to push vertically. Before the 15' mark hit, Sporting Kansas City had a handful of opportune chances from both Dom Dwyer and Soony Saad, including a left-footed rocket that Saad sailed over the crossbar.
By the 25', the match begun to settle down as Sporting Kansas City looked for pockets of space to attack the very defensive-minded Rapids backline. Soon after, Benny Feilhaber sent Sporting Park into an uproar thanks to a world-class strike from 30-yards out that put the home side up 1-0. That scoreline proved to be the difference going into halftime, as Sporting led the Rapids in shots, possession and passing.
The second half proved to be more of the same early-on as Vermes' squad pushed forward out of the gate with a second goal in mind. Neither side had definitive opportunities at goal until a questionable free-kick call in 77' led to an own goal deflection in Colorado's favor. The initial strike came off the foot of Edson Buddle who had a clear look at goal until a Sporting Kansas City defender stepped in for a clearance attempt.
Fearing another disappointing draw, Vermes went to his bench and brought in CJ Sapong in the 79' for Soony Saad. Shortly thereafter, Kei Kamara, who had been sidelined since August 10, came on for Benny Feilhaber and made his presence known with a curling cross that nearly set Sporting Kansas City up with the go-ahead goal.
Minutes later, Chance Myers sent in a brilliant cross that was met by the head of CJ Sapong inside the box. The header went directly towards Graham Zusi's foot, and without hesitation the forward put the ball in the bottom right-hand corner of the net. The 2-1 Sporting Kansas City advantage proved to be enough despite two last-ditched efforts from Colorado.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we deserved the three points," Vermes said after the match. "I thought we dominated the game. If you look at the way we played in the first half until our (first) goal was scored, we were knocking the ball around, had great movement off the ball, and our player decisions on the ball were very good. We were extremely patient around the attacking third and created some very good chances. We did a good job keeping the ball alive and Benny (Feilhaber) had a world-class goal. At halftime we were up 1-0, and unfortunately I don't think they were deserving of their goal. At any rate, they scored, but it was good hunger from our perspective to get the second goal. There was excellent movement in the box, a great header from C.J. (Sapong), and an excellent finish from Graham (Zusi). I thought that our subs that came on played well. It was a very good result for us."
With the victory, Sporting Kansas City slides back into a tie for first-place in the Eastern Conference with a 12-9-6 record. Colorado falls to 11-7-9, suffering their first losing decision in 10 matches. Sporting Kansas City will entertain the Columbus Crew next Saturday at Sporting Park at 7:30.