Sporting Kansas City has become so synonymous with their pressing game and stars like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, we ofter forget what they do best. Every few weeks, however, we’re reminded: No team in Major League Soccer is better at seeing out a one-goal lead.
After Jacob Peterson’s 10th minute goal at Sporting Park, Peter Vermes’ side had another chance to show off its ability to lock down a match. Despite two close calls from Columbus’s Bernardo Añor, the defending MLS champion were able to do so, joining New York and New England at the top of the Eastern Conference after Claudio Bieler’s late goal gave Kansas City a 2-0 win over the visiting Crew.
The game’s opening goal came after Zusi and full back Chance Myers built a chance down the right, one that left both sides fighting for the ball in front of goal. A shot blocked by Giancarlo Gonzalez was played off Michael Parkhurst by Dom Dwyer, with the ball eventually bouncing across goal to Peterson. The Sporting forward brought his right foot down on the bouncing ball and hammered it into Steve Clark’s net, delivering what would become the winning goal.
The best chances over the match’s next 80 minutes would fall to Columbus, but the opportunities would prove scarce. While Seth Sinovic and Dom Dwyer each had good looks for Sporting, neither matched a 31st minute header from Añor – a ball hit from the center of the box just outside Eric Kronberg’s right foot, testing the Kansas City keeper as he palmed the ball off the line. In the second half, a blast from outside the box saw Kronberg parry the ball back to the middle of the area only for the assistant’s flag to be raised for an offside Jairo Arrieta.
In stoppage time, having lost Wil Trapp to a second yellow, Columbus gave up the final goal, with a misplay by Michael Parkhurst allowing Graham Zusi to set up Claudio Bieler for some unneeded insurance. Moving back to the top of the East, Sporting handed Columbus it’s second loss of the season, leaving the Crew fourth after eight matches.
Despite the final score, the game was a relatively even one, though given the posture Sporting was able to assume after their early goal, it was impossible to say how the teams would have matched up had Peterson’s try been stopped. The game could very well have played out the same, with the league’s two most possession sensitive teams sharing the ball for most of the afternoon. Sporting, however, may have been slightly more aggressive, something that could have opened things up for Columbus.
That Sporting got that opening goal was a testament to the Vermes’ plan, with the team’s play from wide producing the game’s decisive role. Kansas City normally thrives in wide areas anyway, but starting Peterson instead of Sal Zizzo, Vermes seemed intent on attacking Waylon Francis on Columbus’s left, moving Zusi over to that side to go after the Costa Rican. The move payed off when Zusi and Myers combined to create the chance for Peterson, giving Sporting a lead they’d never relinquish.
For Columbus’s part, the match snaps a three-match unbeaten run, but it also served as validation of sorts. Over the course of 90 minutes in Kansas, the only thing that separated the two sides was that Peterson goal, and while Kansas City deserves credit for creating the chance, the opportunity also required a fortunate bounce off Parkhurst. If that ball deflects in any other direction, Columbus gets to play out that 0-0 a little longer.
From what we saw after Peterson’s goal, Columbus may have faired well, but given the scoreline, that remains hypothetical. Gregg Berhalter will have to wait until Sporting visits on July 17 to verify his team can keep up with the East’s best.