After Saturday’s draw, Sporting KC’s attention turns to chance at revenge in Philly on Wed.
Sporting Kansas City returned to first place in the Eastern Conference on Saturday, tying D.C. United for the conference lead, after a scoreless draw against the Houston Dynamo at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Sporting KC (10-5-3) out-shot Houston (17-7) as both sides had to contend with triple-digit heat as well as each other. In a first half in which Sporting KC had an 8-2 shooting advantage, Jacob Peterson fired what looked to be the go-ahead shot in the 33rd minute. From 25 yards out, Peterson beat Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall only to have his shot hit the post and return to play.
In the 57th minute, C.J. Sapong was inches away from the game’s first score, coming up just short of the far post. Roger Espinoza helped orchestrate the opportunity when he found Sapong alone at the top of the area. About eight minutes later, Espinoza also sent a pass to Kai Kamara, but the Sierra Leone international failed to challenge Hall.
For much of the final 30 minutes of the match, Sporting KC maintained possession, pressuring Houston’s half of the pitch. Though the final result would remain scoreless, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes was in good spirits following the match.
“Look, you want to score,” Vermes said. “But you can’t mistake performance for what the result is at the end of the game. Our performance was great. We dominated and controlled the game in a lot of different respects.”
For all its possession and shots domination, perhaps Sporting KC’s most crucial play came in the final minute of regular time, when goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made a sliding stop at the right edge of the six-yard box to save a last-ditch attempt by second-half substitute Brian Ownby.
After the match, Nielsen conceded that the heat played a role. With the temperature flirting between 104 and 106, how could it not?
“I know that’s no excuse, but it’s just the facts,” Nielsen said. “(The heat) is really, really bad right now. The tempo of the game was a little slow today because of that. But it’s something we can’t change—we have to deal with it and we have to be smart on the field and let the ball do the work.”
Nielsen said that as he left the field Saturday, Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal at the Philadelphia Union was already in his head.
“Our last game against them was our worst performance of the season—unacceptable,” Nielsen said. “I hope everyone is so hungry to get back there, and in my eyes it’s time for payback.”
Nielsen was referring to Sporting KC’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Union, also at PPL Park. Should Sporting KC find redemption Wednesday — the match begins at 6:30 p.m. — it will host the Open Cup final at Livestrong Sporting Park on August 7 or 8 against either Civas USA and the Seattle Sounders FC.
It’s a massive game — a big semifinal and a chance to win a trophy,” Peterson said. “But we aren’t looking past the first step, and that’s Philadelphia. Obviously they took it to us a couple weeks ago and we want that revenge. We want to bring this club some silverware, and Wednesday is a great time to start.”
Three selected to 2012 MLS All-Star First XI
Major League Soccer fans selected three Sporting KC players to the 2012 MLS All-Star First XI. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, defender Aurelien Collin and midfielder Graham Zusi will be considered for the 18-man gameday roster selected by MLS All-Star coach Ben Olsen of the D.C. United.
On Sunday, Olsen will reveal the lineup he will field on July 25 against European Champions Chelsea FC at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
It is Nielsen’s second All-Star selection and the first for Collin and Zusi. Nielsen, the team’s 2011 most valuable player, has played every minute for Sporting KC this year and is tied for the league lead with 10 victories. His nine shutouts are second in MLS.
Collin has started all 18 league matches for Sporting KC this season and has anchored a defense that has an MLS-best 0.94 goals against average.
Zusi is the only player to appear in every Sporting KC match in all competition this year. He has a single-season career high with eight assists, second in MLS, and leads the league with four game-winning assists. Zusi’s strong 2012 also includes netting the game-winning goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team at Panama.