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Monday Morning Fullbacking: In a New York Minute

Sporting Kansas City earns their first win of the season against NYCFC with a 1-0 result and Ike Opara shines.

Matt Besler engages hawk mode and carries off an NYCFC rodent
Matt Besler engages hawk mode and carries off an NYCFC rodent
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City finally got one for the win column with a strong defensive performance sealing a 1-0 win after Ike Opara scored his second of the season of a long Matt Besler throw in.

Sporting started play off well in the first half, though the smallish size of the field lead to a lot of long balls from both teams and some congestion while playing through the middle, but the lack of width helped Sporting pull a goal forward in the 12th minute when a long Matt Besler throw in found the head of Ike Opara who got high and scored a slam dunk of a goal. And while I'm not crazy about Ike Opara being our leading goal scorer, he's shown himself to be quite a threat on set pieces this season and definitely is going to give defenses something to think about all season, plus it's great to see him off to such a great start after his injury.

Speaking of injuries, it was a little scary to me to see Zusi pulled off the field in the 38th minute. While I haven't seen anything discussing how serious/non-serious it may be, I was reminded that not too long ago Sporting posted an article on how Graham Zusi is "playing through pain", so I'll be holding my breath ever so slightly...

The second half was more back and forth with NYCFC holding on for more possession and getting some better opportunities, but unable to find anything. Marin made three saves and had a good match, and most of the back line looked quite good. The last 10 or so minutes was all one way traffic with NYCFC launching balls constantly into the area, but SKCs defense did a good job winning duels and clearing the area, even if it was bit frantic by the end.

Overall, high marks for the defense. The lack of run of play goals is still something that makes me nervous and seems to have been a theme for Sporting over the last few seasons. Also, perhaps file under "stats that mean nothing", NYCFC completed over 200 more passes than Sporting and were approaching almost a 2:1 ratio of possession (62% vs 38%). The small field certainly didn't help build up play and short passing/possession has definitely been a Jason Kreis hallmark... and while Sporting's 349 total passes per game average is the fourth lowest in the league, the team with the fewest number of passes per game with 343 is FC Dallas, who aren't exactly having a bad year... Likely just a difference in tactics and styles, but somewhat interesting to note, I think.

And speaking of things to note, here's some player ratings. Ike Opara with a stellar game, not just because of the goal but also with a superb defensive outing, leading the team in interceptions (with 9), clearances (with 13), aerial duels won (with 9) and blocked shots (with 2). Can't ask for more than that.

Josh Saunders 5
Jason Hernandez 5.5
Jeb Brovsky 5
Chris Wingert 4.5
Kwame Watson-Siriboe 5.5
Mix Diskerud 4.5
Ned Grabavoy 4.5
Andrew Jacobson 4.5
Mehdi Ballouchy 4.5
Javier Calle 4
Thomas McNamara 4.5
Kwadwo Poku 4.5
Patrick Mullins 4.5
Tony Taylor 4.5
Sporting Kansas City
Luis Marin 7
Ike Opara 9
Matt Besler 7.5
Seth Sinovic 6.5
Jalil Anibaba 5.5
Servando Carrasco 5.5
Benny Feilhaber 5.5
Graham Zusi 4.5
Jimmy Medranda 5
Bernardo Anor 4.5
Paulo Nagamura 4.5
Dwyer 4.5
Soni Mustivar 4.5
Jacob Peterson 4.5

So Man of the Match honors to Mr. Opara, and let's hope the winning ways continue when Sporting take on the Philadelphia Union on Easter Sunday at Sporting Park next week.