Between injuries and absences, Sporting Kansas City is in survival mode while its biggest stars are at the World Cup, a situation that makes goals like the one from Fabián Espíndola, above, even more ill-timed. One of only two D.C. United shots on target, the Argentine’s first half chip was Saturday’s only score, giving Ben Olsen’s team a 1-0 win over the defending champions at RFK Stadium.
Espíndola’s was a beautiful, well-placed shot, but as a goalkeeper, Eric Kronberg just can’t get caught like this. From 24-25 yards out, moving away from goal, an attacker shouldn’t have a chance to score from that angle. A goalkeeper has too much time to adjust. You not only have to be out of position, you have to be caught off guard. Whether Espíndola’s ball was intended to be a shot of a cross, Kronberg can’t get out like that. He has to be able to protect to get to that ball.
For Espíndola, however, the goal becomes the newest part of his remarkable surge. Five months after being let go by New York, just over a year after Real Salt Lake traded him away, the 29-year-old Argentine is challenging for his second career double-digit goal season. Three years after setting a career high with 10 goals, Espíndola is on pace for 18 after three months with United, scoring his seventh on Saturday.
On a team where no other player has more than three goals, the Re-Entry Draft pick has become United’s most important player. While it’d be foolhardy to expect this production to continue, the surge has bought time to incorporate Chris Rolfe and figure out how to use Eddie Johnson. Thought each of those projects is a work in progress, each promises to make the team less dependent on Espíndola’s goals, giving United new ways to sustain its unexpectedly strong start (after Saturday’s win, D.C. is in second in the East).
That the goal was so fluky will be a source of frustration for Kansas City – a team who, now winless in five, outshot their hosts 16-7, including 5-2 in chances on goal. Unfortunately, without Graham Zusi, and with Benny Feilhaber temporarily playing a deeper role, the team doesn’t have a way to augment Dom Dwyer’s missed chances. If he’s not scoring, Kansas City doesn’t have many options.