For much of the 2011 MLS regular season, Sporting Kansas City have found themselves on the wrong side of saying, "we didn't get the result we deserved for much of the game." On Wednesday night when Sporting KC took on the second-year Philadelphia Union at PPL Park in Chester, Penn., they somehow managed to be the ones leaving the field after 90 minutes thinking, "we didn't very well deserve a draw tonight, but we got it anyway."
In games early on in the season against Columbus, New England, New York and Seattle, Sporting did more than enough to earn road draws and take away a point for their efforts, but somehow managed to leave empty-handed. Then there was the meltdown of a 3-3 draw against Vancouver in which they conceded twice in the 92nd and 94th minutes to go from 3-1 up, to get only the draw.
Wednesday night, as much of the previous three weeks' six game unbeaten streak has, truly signaled a new leaf being turned over. The Union absolutely controlled the run of play all night long, to the tune of a 60-40 percent possession advantage. They fired in 26 shots, 7 of which were on goal and required the heroics of Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (once again) to keep them on level terms. At the same time, Sporting recorded 8 total shots, with 0 being on target of the goal.
The draw moves Sporting's record on the season to 3-6-5, and all of a sudden, their road record of 2-6-4 doesn't look so bad when considering the first 10 games were played on the road. Nielsen picked up his second straight shutout, and the team's third on the season. They have also now allowed only 3 goals in their last 7 league games, which is quite a feat, considering through 7 games the tally was at 17 goals conceded.
As for the game itself, the shot numbers pretty well tell the story of the night. Union forwards Sebastisn LeToux and Carlos Ruiz spent much of the night tormenting fill-in starting centerback Julio Cesar Santos, who was starting in place of the suspended Aurelien Collin. No fewer than a half dozen times did Nielsen spring to action and make a save that left many wondering just how many more times he could preserve the scoreline.
He then found himself unable to do so in the 71st minute when Ruiz beat Nielsen with a header, but alas, it was the crossbar that ultimately saved the night for Sporting. Perhaps Nielsen's best save of the night, at least for my money, came on a 29th minute Ruiz free kick from outside the box that was surely destined for the inside of the side netting. A powerful shot just over the wall of defenders inside the box dipped down and swerved to Nielsen's right post looked a safe bet to beat him, but the big Danish 'keeper took to the air and punched the ball away with both hands.
Sporting's best chance of the night came on an Omar Bravo shot from 10 yards out that went just high of the crossbar in the 9th minute.
While many may look at a 0-0 score and think there wasn't much in the game, or that it was a disappointing performance by Sporting, it couldn't be anything further from the truth. Going into one of the league's toughest places to play, doing so without a couple of your best players in Collin and midfielder Graham Zusi, and holding strong for 90 minutes to pick up a draw when only 20 percent of teams across the league manage a win away from home, is none a task and accomplishment to be taken lightly.
With even just the single point Wednesday night, a win on Saturday against Vancouver - the worst team in the league - could potentially vault Sporting over three other teams in the Eastern Conference, depending on their results, and move them from 9th to 6th. They could also potentially tie DC on points and move ahead of them, as well, by virtue of goal differential.