Sporting Kansas City opened the 2012 Major League Soccer season with a dramatic 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Striker C.J. Sapong, the 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year, headed home a Graham Zusi corner kick in the third minute of second-half stoppage time for the game-winning goal.The successful start to the new campaign returns Sporting Kansas City to the top of the Eastern Conference following a first place finish a year ago.
Sporting Kansas City controlled the First Kick fixture throughout the match, outshooting the home side 17-7 with an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal. But it wasn’t until the team’s final attempt of the match that Sporting broke through for the full three points and sent the capacity-crowd at the team’s watch party in the Members’ Club at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park into a roar of celebration.
Following a foul on Sapong in the game’s waning moments, it was Zusi’s free kick from 25 yards out that deflected out for a corner. The set piece specialist served an in-swinging delivery and Sapong timed his run well to meet the service at the top of the six-yard box. His glancing header in traffic froze D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid and settled inside the far post for the sixth regularseason goal of his MLS career and his second game-winning goal in as many seasons.
Zusi’s assist, his ninth career regular-season assist after he recorded seven in 2011, came on the latest game-winning goal scored by Sporting Kansas City since Josh Wolff’s 96th minute goal against the Houston Dynamo two years ago.
In the game’s early stages it was Sporting Kansas City striker Kei Kamara who collected most all of the chances created. First in the 12th minute, Kamara forced a turnover and had his shot blocked out for Sporting’s first corner of the match.
Five minutes later, Kamara challenged Bill Hamid for a cross into the penalty area but the D.C. United goalkeeper secured the service at the last moment. Moments later, Kamara’s aerial abilities were on display as Bobby Convey curled a set piece toward the penalty spot but Kamara’s was whistled for an infringement as his header was acrobatically held by Hamid.
Sporting Kansas City continued to control the play in the opening 45 minutes with Kamara coming close to giving the visitors a first half lead. Zusi led the counter attack in the 36th minute prior to playing a pass to Kamara on the right wing. He took a touch before attempting an early effort from 25 yards out that sailed narrowly wide of the far post.
D.C. United’s best scoring opportunity of the half came in the 39th minute as Chris Pontius combined with 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario for a give-and-go to unlock the Sporting KC defense. Pontius looked poise to test Nielsen but his shot rolled wide from the top of the area.
The first half’s most exciting moment waited until the final minute as Roger Espinoza sent a cross into the goalmouth for Kamara to rush onto. The Sierra Leone international rose high to outleap his marker and directed his headerdown, but Hamid did well to keep the match scoreless with a two-footed save to direct it wide of the goal.
Following the break, Sporting KC continued to threaten as Teal Bunbury had a pair of chances in back-to-back minutes. He turned and sent his shot narrowly wide in the 47th minute then put another attempt over the bar after receiving a feed from Zusi inside the penalty area.
Zusi’s free kick in the 55th minute found Collin in the middle of the box and the Frenchman directed his header on frame. Hamid spilled the shot but recovered in time to prevent Matt Besler from capitalizing nearby.
D.C. United looked dangerous one minute later as Robbie Russell’s cross connected with Hamdi Salihi, but the new Designated Player’s header went wide of Jimmy Nielsen’s net. The Sporting KC captain would only need to make a single save in the victory, holding onto a free kick from second half substitute Maicon Santos in the 84th minute for his 18th career regular season shutout.
Santos was put into a scoring position again four minutes later after a give-and-go with De Rosario, but his volley went well over the crossbar.
On the opposite end, Hamid recorded a career-high seven saves upon being called into action often. He smothered a dipping shot from Espinoza in the 65th minute before denying Zusi twice in a five-minute span, once from the left corner of the penalty area with a bending shot aimed for the far post and then on a skipping shot from beyond the area that he did well to block.
Sporting Kansas City will now ride the momentum into their home opener at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, March 17 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park when they take on the New England Revolution. Tickets are still available and can be purchased on Ticketmaster.com or by visiting the LSP Box Offices.