Wizards knock off first-place Crew
The Kansas City Wizards earned a hard-fought road victory Wednesday night, posting a 1-0 victory against the first-place Columbus Crew.
Rookie striker Teal Bunbury scored his first MLS goal on the night, while goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen posted his sixth shutout of the year with a season-high seven saves. Three of Nielsen’s saves were highlight-reel efforts.
"“It means a lot," Bunbury said of the victory. "I kept hearing how hostile and tough it was to come here and get a win, especially with this drought we’ve been having. It was really important for us to come here, high press them and not take them lightly, but still go after them. I think it’s a credit to everybody on the field, with all the work we’ve put in and getting the victory here is huge.”
After Columbus held most of the possession early, Kansas City broke out on the counter and took a 1-0 lead through Bunbury in the 14th minute. Left back Roger Espinoza started the play by intercepting a pass from Frankie Hejduk and turning immediately up field. Espinoza found winger Ryan Smith at the half line, and Smith unlocked the Crew’s defense with an inch-perfect pass in between defenders into the path of Bunbury. The University of Akron product made no mistake, blasting home a shot between the legs of goalkeeper William Hesmer for his first MLS goal.
Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made his first huge save of the match in the 19th minute. Columbus midfielder Adam Moffat stepped around a defender and laced a shot on goal from 20 yards out that was on goal just under the crossbar, but Nielsen extended a big palm and pushed the ball over and out of bounds to keep Columbus off the score sheet.
The Wizards nearly went up 2-0 on back-to-back chances in the 27th and 28th minutes. First, Smith served a dangerous cross behind the Crew defense that left back Gino Padula deflected straight at his own net, forcing a reaction save from goalkeeper Will Hesmer. On the ensuing corner kick, Kamara rose high and headed the ball toward goal, but midfielder Eddie Gaven cleared the ball off the line to keep Columbus within striking distance.
Kansas City had another chance to pad their lead in the 50th minute when Espinoza again started a counter attack. Kansas City’s World Cup participant launched a long ball ahead to right forward Kei Kamara in the penalty area. Kamara brought the ball down and laid it back for on-rushing midfielder Davy Arnaud at the top of the box. Arnaud’s first-time effort went wide, however, and the match remained 1-0 in favor of the Wizards.
Nielsen made his next big save in the 70th minute, standing his ground and sticking out his right boot to deny Columbus attacker Guillermo Barros Schelotto from close range.
The Wizards could have sealed victory in the 81st minute after a pair of opportunities, but they converted neither. First, Smith put Bunbury in behind the defense. Bunbury rounded goalkeeper Hesmer, but his touch took him too wide, and he was forced to hold the ball up and cross toward substitute midfielder Graham Zusi at the back post. Zusi rose and headed the ball toward goal, but Hesmer had recovered and blocked the shot.
Nielsen made his final highlight-reel save in the 89th minute, parrying a shot off the foot of substitute Emmanuel Ekpo wide even though several players on both teams were in Nielsen’s line of sight. Nielsen made two more routine saves in stoppage time to seal his 6th shutout of the season, good for a tie for 3rd in MLS. His 51 saves on the year also put him 3rd in MLS among goalkeepers.
The Wizards have little time for recovery, traveling immediately to Colorado Thursday morning before a Saturday night match against the Colorado Rapids.