Sporting Kansas City further put the Western Conference and all of MLS on alert with a display of skillful ball movement, a continued stingy defense, and a strong dose of toughness to gain a 1-0 victory against the 1st place Portland Timbers at Providence Park late Saturday night. Dom Dwyer’s second goal in two matches gave Sporting a well-deserved lead in the 53rd minute that they would never relinquish. The shutout gave Sporting Kansas City four on the season and their fourth shutout in five of their last regular season visits to Providence Park.
Sporting Kansas City came into Providence Park undefeated on the season, boasting shutouts in three straight road games dating back to last season, while the host Portland Timbers - first in the Western conference - were on an eight-game home unbeaten run that included just one draw.
Sporting dominated possession and the chances in the first 10 minutes. Kansas City midfielder Jimmy Medranda created the biggest chance with a steal off Daniel Guzman just outside the Timbers box in the 8th minute, but goalkeeper Jake Gleeson cleared for a corner.
The next ten minutes saw both teams foraying into other’s end but no strong chances on goal created as the physicality of the match increased, featuring a pair of toe-to-toe battles between Sporting center back Ike Opara and Timbers’ forward Fanendo Adi.
Sporting’s possession – on its way to a dominate 56% rate in the 1st half – and ball movement forced seven fouls out of the home side by the 25th minute, but it was Opara who earned the first yellow card for delaying a free kick.
However, the home side nearly gained the momentum against the general run of play in the 33rd minute. Sporting right back Graham Zusi missed clearing the ball on the left side of his goal, allowing the ball to fall to Portland’s midfield magician Diego Valeri who rolled a near-post ball for Adi whose shot skied rows into the Timbers’ faithful.
Sporting’s best chance followed four minutes later off a corner from midfielder Benny Feihaber who returned to the starting eleven after sitting out two matches with a right hamstring injury. Midfielder Ilie Sanchez rose to meet the ball just right of goal in the six-yard box, but his header flew just above the post.
The match would turn eight minutes after the break after a Timbers’ error. Deep in his own end, Powell played an innocuous long ball from Sporting out of play. Shortly thereafter, as Sporting moved the ball quickly from left to right, the ball came to Medranda who crossed sharply for forward Dom Dwyer. Dwyer acrobatically nodded a bullet past Gleeson for his second goal in as many games in the 53rd minute for the lead and the right to further take the game to the hosts.
And two subsequent chances would come. In the 55th minute, Feilhaber received from Dwyer at the top of box but his attempt rolled wide right; five minutes on, Sporting’s crafty forward Gerso Fernandes carved in from the right, forcing a point-blank kick save from Gleeson.
Sporting’s persistent attacking was matched by its stingy defending in the 62nd minute when Captain Matt Besler flew to ground at the top left side of the area to block a Valeri attempt after a scrum just inside Sporting’s box.
As Portland moved influential midfielder Darlington Nagbe inside to gain more control of the match through the entry of speedy forward Darren Mattocks for midfielder David Guzman in the 71st minute, Sporting countered with a spell of possession to keep the vaunted Timbers’ attack at bay.
But the Timbers were not to go quietly. A swarm of Timbers’ attacker created flurry of chances beginning in the 78th minute. First Sporting netminder Tim Melia came off his line to snuff out a chance, followed by a Powell header from a corner that was cleared off the line (and off Dwyer’s back) by Espinoza. Then Melia shined bright, getting his hand to a Nagbe volley and sending it off the crossbar. The chaotic moments ended with a shot from Sebastian Blanco in the 80th minute that was swallowed up by Melia.
Hoping to batten down the hatches three minutes later, Sporting inserted holding midfielder Soni Mustavar for Feilhaber, and in the 90th minute, Saad Abdul-Salaam for an ailing Espinoza.
Five minutes of stoppage time would force the visitors to tame the Timbers’ attack to gain the victory and they would, stopping Portland’s home unbeaten streak and gaining their third victory of the season to go with three draws.
Now on 12 points, just one behind Portland, Sporting will take their undefeated record to FC Dallas – the other undefeated team in MLS – next Saturday.