Apr 1, 2012; Carson, CA, USA; Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi (8) gives an interpretation of how watching the first half made everyone feel. Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE
CJ Sapong gets an early second half goal and Sporting holds on for another road win, which increases their lead in the East.
It wasn't the prettiest of games, but for the second time this year Sporting Kansas City went on the road and squeezed out a 1-0 result, where a draw may have been fair for both sides. The win takes Sporting KC to 4-0-0 and gives them a two game cushion against the rest of the Eastern Conference, while Chivas USA remains tied with their Home Depot Center fellows in last in the Western Conference.
The game started off slow with very few solid chances for either side. The entire first half was forgettable for both teams. Chivas USA got away from the Sporting defense on occasion, but never got off a shot to threaten Jimmy Nielsen. On the opposite end, Sporting's passing was off, bringing the few breaks they found to screeching halt and like Chivas they didn't threaten to score.
The second half was a different story from the start. Graham Zusi, always a danger from long range, took a chance in the 46th minute, and hit the crossbar. The ball caromed back into play and Zusi headed it across the face of goal for the easiest header of CJ Sapong's life for the game's only goal.
For most teams, a road lead would cause a natural shift into a more defensive posture, but for better or worse, Sporting became more adventurous after their first goal. While this allowed plenty of space for Chivas to attack into, Chivas still did not get a shot on goal. The most threat they provided came from Ryan Smith's speed, but the final pass or shot always eluded him.
For Sporting, Kei Kamara found himself more attacking room and got several chances, but was constantly denied by Dan Kennedy. Kennedy was the breakout keeper of MLS last year, and this year has taken his game up another notch. This was best indicated by his save off Kamara's header across the face of goal, that should have given Sporing KC the two goal cushion needed to see the game out comfortably.
Teal Bunbury returned to the field, after the disappointing Olympic qualifiers, and he provided some fresh legs and verve to a tired attack. His best sequence came on a give and go, which led to a half chance from the 18, but otherwise he continued the fine hold-up play Sapong provided. Jacob Peterson also looked good after coming on for Bobby Convey, like Bunbury getting a chance
Even without a second goal, the game ended with little tension as Chivas had trouble both in keeping possession and creating chances. While several holes opened up in the Sporting defense, a clean sheet with no shots on goal will sit well with the team. On offense, the chances were there but the finishing needs to be better and Kennedy won't be playing for every other team.
For Sporting, this is the best start in franchise history passing the 3-0-0 mark of 2006. If 3-0-0 was a good predictor of playoff participation (everyone but that 2006 side qualified after that start), this indicates Sporting KC is the favorite at this point in MLS. Every other team favored for the MLS Cup (LA, Sea, RSL) lost in the last two weeks, and the teams improving on the scoreboard (NY, VAN) still have major problems.
Next up is the defending champions LA Galaxy, and at this point, it appears Omar Gonzalez should win MLS Defender of the Year in his absence. They currently sit in last place in the West, not that I expect that to continue, and much of the blame can be laid at the defense's feet. If there were any better time to face the Galaxy, I can't think of it and hopefully Sporting takes advantage of facing the demoralized side. A win will keep the distance between first and second at six points or even lengthen their lead in the East, but more importantly keep them firmly in control of the Supporter's Shield.
Man of the Match: CJ Sapong
It was a bland match, and anyone I thought of had reasons for being MOTM. I'll give CJ the nod for the goal, as easy as it was. More importantly, his hold-up play was fantastic, and constantly he gave the ball back to a teammate while under duress after the attack had come forward to join. In a lone striker system, this is essential. To add to it he made a few slick moves turning defenders, although he was a little indecisive after them. Even better, he was mugged several times, but MLS refs are soft on contact in the box so nothing came of it.