Blue confetti showed up in full force on Sunday afternoon at Sporting Park, and while Sporting KC’s four goals over Chivas USA were a season-high, there was plenty more for the team to get excited about.
From breaking club records to topping charts to stellar debut performances, almost every moment was packed with excitement.
With yesterday’s 4-0 win over Chivas USA, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen broke the club’s all-time shutout record.
Nielsen now has recorded 38 career regular season shutouts, stepping ahead of National Soccer Hall of Fame member and former Kansas City goalkeeper Tony Meola.
“Tony Meola is not too happy about it,” Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes laughed after the game, “but, good for Jimmy. Jimmy will tell you that he doesn't care about that. At the end of the day, what he wants is another championship with the team, and he wants the MLS Cup…If he keeps getting those (shutouts), he will help put us in the right position where hopefully we can win.”
Vermes was right about Nielsen not focusing on breaking records. When asked if he’s thought about the milestone Nielsen shook his head.
“Not now, maybe later when I retire or something,” Nielsen answered, “but it’s not in my mind at all. I came here to win today and we won, I’m a happy man. (My team) made it very easy. If they continue like that, I could play until I’m 44.”
Two players found themselves at the top of the MLS charts after solid performances on their home field.
With his pair of goals, Sporting KC forward Claudio Bieler is now in a three-way tie for No. 1 in the MLS for most goals scored this season.
“It was a great play by Graham Zusi,” Bieler said about the setup of his first goal in the game’s 41st minute (video here). “I saw the keeper come out fast, and my first thought was to cut it back and try to slip it in. I actually almost missed the ball. You could see how slow the ball went into the goal. Nonetheless, it was a reflection of the team's actions off the ball. The movement off the ball created a lot of problems in their defense, and that's why we had so many opportunities.”
Bieler went on to score another goal, a penalty kick in the 57th minute (video here), and has now notched six goals since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Sporting midfielder Graham Zusi had the assist on Bieler’s first goal. Zusi’s four assists this season put him in a tie for No. 1 on the MLS charts as well.
In the 56th minute, Zusi scored a goal of his own (video here) off of an assist from midfielder Josh Gardner, marking his fifth career game with both a goal and an assist.
In minute 57, midfielder Josh Gardner made his debut appearance with Sporting Kansas City since joining the team in January.
It wasn’t even ten minutes after entering the game and Gardner sent a perfectly placed ball into the Chivas USA 18-yard box to assist Zusi on his goal.
Though it was 10 games in before he saw playing time for Sporting KC, Gardner said he has been enjoying his time in Kansas City.
“I felt a part of the team whenever they picked me up,” Gardner said. “To be honest, this is a great organization. Everybody’s been very supportive. I’ve been patient too, and it’s great to help the boys out and it was just a great moment for myself.”
But along with the debut and this busy week of soccer, Gardner said his mind has been somewhere else – and with good reason.
“My wife’s about to give birth to our third baby,” Gardner said proudly. “So to get out there in the game tonight, it was very special, and hopefully we’ll have a baby this week.”
Dry spell broken
While forward C.J. Sapong has played in every one of Sporting’s games in 2013 and saw starts in seven of them, it wasn’t until last night that he was able to put away a goal of his own.
“It’s been a while, it’s been rough, and I’ve been tested, but hey, that’s what makes it all the more beautiful when it goes in right?” Sapong said. “My history as a soccer player, I’ve always been used to scoring goals. It’s my third season and I felt like I really had a good understanding of how we play. I felt like I kind of had a scope of what was needed, so being hit with that drought kind of threw me off a little bit, but I stayed positive and the drought is no more.”
Sapong’s 87th minute goal (video here) was assisted by defender Mechack Jerome, and marked Jerome’s first assist for Sporting Kansas City.
Coach’s final thoughts
Overall, Vermes said he was pleased with the way his team showed up ready to play, and said it took each and every player to finish the game with a performance that strong.
“I think that we dominated the game from start to finish,” Vermes said. “Every guy on the field worked from the opening minute to the final minute, and they all ran their individual duels with or without the ball. When we do that, we end up dominating the game physically, technically, tactically and psychologically.”