Sporting Kansas City improved to 4-0-0 with a 1-0 victory on Sunday at Chivas USA, marking the first time in club history to have secured maximum points in each of the club’s first four MLS matches.
C.J. Sapong scored his team-best third goal of the season in the 47th minute on an assist from Graham Zusi, who now leads MLS with five assists on the year. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen recorded his third shutout of 2012, also a League-high, as Sporting Kansas City’s defense held their opponent without a shot on goal for the fourth time in club history on Sunday.
The first half at The Home Depot Center was highlighted by half-chances, largely created by Chivas USA midfielder Ryan Smith. Acquired from Sporting KC in the offseason, Smith nearly connected with rookie Casey Townsend in the 15th minute but Nielsen was quick off his line to smother the through ball.
Smith again threatened in the 44th minute but Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin and Nielsen partnered in defense to prevent the English playmaker from finding ample space to shoot. The solid defensive display from both sides continued to withstand any and all attempts in the opening 45 minutes as Sapong’s shot in the 30th minute was the only shot on target in the half.
But Sporting Kansas City wasted little time after the halftime break to find the eventual match-winner. Less than two minutes after resuming play, Sapong played a pass to Zusi inside midfield with space to make a spirited run forward before firing a shot from 30 yards out. The blast caromed off the crossbar after Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy got his fingertips to it in flight, eventually falling inside the six-yard box. Zusi put himself in position to win the header, bouncing it off the ground and into the path of Sapong to re-direct into the net from close range.
With the goal, Zusi now has assists in each of the team’s first four matches and the Maryland product has played a part in every game-winning goal so far this season with three game-winning assists and the game-winning goal against the New England Revolution.
Sapong’s strike was his third of the season, tied for fifth most in MLS, and gives him eight in his career after scoring five times during his Rookie of the Year campaign last season.
Sporting Kansas City continued to press with the 1-0 advantage, nearly capitalizing on a Bobby Convey corner in the 49th minute as Sapong’s scissors was cleared at the backpost by Smith before Julio Cesar’s follow-up volley worked its way through to Kennedy.
Chivas USA were inches from pulling even five minutes later as Nick LaBrocca’s shot from the top of the penalty area struck the outside of the post. The home side came close again in the 66th minute as Ante Jazic played a pass from the endline back for Townsend at the penalty spot but his first-time shot sailed high and wide.
Sporting Kansas City peppered 16 shots toward Kennedy throughout the second half, most in a half by any MLS team this season, and he made his best save of the match in the 73rd minute to turn away Kei Kamara’s header off a corner kick from Zusi.