Chester, Penn. – Sporting Kansas City opened the 2013 season with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, but it wasn’t as smooth a match as the visitors would have liked.
An early goal for Philadelphia rattled Kansas City, but the Union’s second half breakdowns — “the little things,” as Union coach John Hackworth called them — led to three points in the opener for a Sporting team expected to again contend for the Eastern Conference crown.
“We felt like we had the chances, we were dictating the game and it was just a couple tiny plays that seem so inconsequential, yet they lead to something,” Hackworth said. “Credit to Sporting Kansas City because they take advantage of those little things. They believed in that and felt they could come back. And that happened.”
The first half was a case of something old, something new for the Union. Philadelphia came out inspired – perhaps in part by an unorganized Kansas City back line – and got on the board in the 17th minute when Sebastien Le Toux finished a perfectly-weighted Keon Daniel cross from the left wing.
Two ball-watching Sporting KC defenders, Matt Besler and Seth Sinovic, left Le Toux unmarked and the Frenchman celebrated his return to the club he leads in all-time goals, assists and points by putting the Union on the board. Le Toux calmly settled the ball with his right foot and slotted it into the back of the net from six yards out, scoring in his first game of the season, just as he did in his first stint with the club in 2010.
Le Toux and Daniel easily found space in the pockets in front of Sporting’s back line in the opening 30 minutes to give Philadelphia a new, confident look that it lacked last season.
It was a fitting return for Le Toux, who scored a hat trick in the team’s first-ever home game on April 10, 2010.
But Philadelphia’s seemingly fresh look of confidence was shaken just before halftime, when winger Graham Zusi punished the Union’s collective mental lapse to equalize.
Bobby Convey sent in a floated left-footed cross that forward Claudio Bieler knocked down into the path of an unmarked Benny Feilhaber. His shot from point-blank range was saved by Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, but Zusi pounced on the rebound to make it 1-1 in the 41st minute.
Sporting returned from the break with more aggression than they had in the first half and managed to deflate much of Philadelphia’s early energy. The visitors were rewarded in the 66th minute, courtesy of an Oriol Rosell header off Zusi’s in-swinging free kick.
Philadelphia left Rosell unmarked just outside the 6-yard box for the go-ahead goal.
For the 2012 Eastern Conference regular season champions, order was restored – for now.
Rust was present throughout the unconvincing win for Sporting Kansas City, however. Philadelphia nearly tied the match in the 77th minute when Besler chested the ball back to Nielsen inside the 6-yard box, forcing the unsuspecting goalkeeper to scramble for a save.
Bieler buried all hope of a season-opening win for Philadelphia when he easily slotted home a Chance Myers pass from 15 yards out to give Sporting Kansas City a 3-1 win.
“It gives us confidence on the road that we could come back from a deficit,” Zusi said. “The statistics in this league are not very high for teams that get scored on first on the road. You don’t usually see them come back and win the game, so that’s a good sign for us. Just the fact that we can dig deep in not an ideal environment, grind out the game — it wasn’t the prettiest game either — to know that we can grind those games out is a positive thing.”
Sporting faces another Eastern Conference road match on Saturday, March 9, at Toronto FC before playing its home opener March 16 against the Chicago Fire.
Match highlights are here: