It was all Sporting Kansas City could have asked for as everything went as planned Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park. CJ Sapong opened the scoring in the 18th minute, finishing off a cross after a solid run down the right by Chance Myers and Jacob Peterson. Seventeen minutes later, Graham Zusi's corner sailed past every Toronto defender to an unmarked Julio Cesar Santos, who completed the play with a world class volley that wasn't going to be stopped. The rest of the game was dominated by Sporting possession and some half-chances for both sides. Jimmy Nielsen came up big on a couple of saves and every lucky bounce seemed to favor the hosts.
In his first career MLS start, Lawrence Olum was not expected to completely replace Matt Besler, but perhaps we feel a bit better about him after today. His positioning, aside from being beat in the air for a 50-50 header, was solid, and he was great in keeping possession in favor of Sporting KC by making reliable passes and not overdoing it. He completed 73% of his passes, but that number looks better after you concede his five clearances and four headers that are included in his fourteen missed passes. That said, he had moments that were jumpy, a couple errant passes under pressure and two long shots from distance after set pieces petered out.
Sometimes, MLS can be a league of taken chances, where possession matters very little. Never make the mistake of thinking that you'd rather see Sporting KC be a team that concedes possession but makes its money of taking its few chances well. While it's fun to see Sporting close down on opponents to regain possession, it makes much more sense to refrain from risky passes and instead maintain possession and their legs.
Toronto made the mistake of laying off Sporting and they paid for it dearly as the team's legs never tired and they were constantly able to make positive runs down the flanks. Jimmy Nielsen completed 18 of 25 passes and was rarely forced to make difficult passes. Olum and Collin also were solid in distribution out of the back, often springing attacks rather than just releasing the pressure.
Luck can be a cruel mistress. The best always seem to be lucky, and when you are the worst, luck kicks you for extra effect. Toronto did nothing tonight to show they weren't a last place team, and when they showed flashes of brilliance, they just couldn't come up with the last inch. Eric Avila had two solid chances, somehow managed to hit both posts with the first and the second glanced off of Graham Zusi's leg and sailed just over the goal. Several crosses went through the box untouched, but other times they were simply beaten to the ball.
Even when luck favored, them they found a way to scuff it up. A fortuitous bounce left the ball for Luis Silva who promptly put his shot right into a teammates back. After a Sporting turnover, Reggie Lambe ran after a loose ball that Sporting KC gave up on because of how blatantly offside Ryan Johnson was. If Johnson listens to his teammate and pulls off Toronto may have the goal that changes this game. Then again, maybe Nielsen stones Lambe just as he did Danny Koevermans and Sporting takes even more confidence into the rest of the game.