Sporting Kansas City opened the 2011 Major League Soccer season with a 3-2 victory on the road at Chivas USA on Saturday. Designated Player Omar Bravo scored twice in his MLS debut, while striker C.J. Sapong scored the fastest goal ever by a rookie to start in their first MLS appearance.
Sapong, one of five players to make their first appearance for Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, earned the start on the frontline in the absence of Teal Bunbury and wasted little time in capitalizing on the opportunity. The first round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft had Sporting KC off to a superb start with his first professional goal just one minute, 43 seconds into the match. After winning the header on a free kick from defender Luke Sassano inside midfield, Sapong pounced on a mistake by Chivas USA defender Ben Zemanski and powered his shot past Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton.
Sapong’s goal was the fastest ever scored by a rookie who started in their debut, topping teammate Michael Harrington who scored in the third minute of his first MLS appearance on April 14, 2007 in a 4-2 win over D.C. United. Three other MLS players have scored two minutes into their debuts, though Leandre Griffit, Michael Kraus and Josh Wolff all did so as second-half substitutes.
Sporting Kansas City continued to push forward in the game’s early moments, as forward Kei Kamara nearly converted an individual effort in the 10th minute. After receiving a pass from recent signing Milos Stojcev at midfielder, Kamara pushed the ball past his defender and raced down the right side of the field before firing wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made his best save of the night, getting a foot to divert a shot from Marcos Mondaini, who had combined with Nick LaBrocca on a give-and-go to break free on the left side and looked poised to even the score.
With less than a minute remaining in the first half, Sporting Kansas City doubled the lead on the first of two goals from Bravo, playing against the sister club of his former team, Chivas Guadalajara. Kamara was credited with the assist on the goal, bending a pass into the penalty area that eluded Sapong, but landed in prime position at the top of the box for Bravo to calmly chip Thornton with a first-touch shot over the goalkeeper.
Chivas USA cut the lead in half through defender Jimmy Conrad, acquired from Kansas City via the Re-Entry Process during the offseason, in the 55th minute on a corner kick from Heath Pearce. The free kick ricocheted off the back of Sapong 10 yards from goal and the Chivas USA captain struck his shot on the half-volley from close range.
Bravo then netted the eventual game-winning goal, coming off a long free kick from Nielsen in the 74th minute. The former Mexico international directed his header to the middle of the field where Kamara completed the give-and-go with a header of his own, setting up Bravo to slot his shot past Thornton for the brace. Kamara earned assists on both of Bravo’s goals on Saturday, recording multiple assists in a single game for the third time in his professional career.
The game’s final goal came in the 84th minute as Chivas USA refused to go quietly in the season opener, pulling a goal back through Zemanski, again off a corner kick. Second-half substitute Tristan Bowen’s cross was headed out by Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud, but LaBrocca lobbed a ball back over the KC defense for Zemanski to settle and place past Nielsen into the net.
Both teams would have final scoring chances going forward as Bravo nearly completed the hat trick in the 86th minute and on the opposite end, Nielsen denied Labrocca in stoppage time on his third save of the night.
Sporting Kansas City will continue it’s road trip to start the 2011 season at 3 p.m. CT next Saturday against the Chicago Fire. The match will be televised nationally on TeleFutura and locally on KSMO-TV.
-- With the win, Sporting Kansas City is 1-0-0 in 2011 and are tied with fellow First Kick winners D.C. United, Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls for the top position in the Eastern Conference after week one.
-- Sporting KC is now 6-4-3 all-time against Chivas USA and 2-3-6 on the road in the series. After going winless the first five away games of the series, Kansas City has won each of the last two road matches in the series.
-- Kansas City has won three consecutive games at the Home Depot Center, following victories over the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA last season.
-- Sporting Kansas City is now 10-4-2 all-time in season openers, the best mark among all MLS teams. KC has lost only one season opener in the last ten seasons.
-- Kansas City went unbeaten at 10-0-2 in 2010 when scoring first and continued that streak on Saturday with C.J. Sapong’s goal leading the way in the 2nd minute. The club is 144-27-37 all-time when scoring the game’s first goal.
-- Kansas City also went unbeaten at 7-0-1 when leading at halftime in 2010, a mark they extended after preserving the 2-0 halftime lead en route to Saturday’s 3-2 victory. The team is 91-17-20 all-time when leading at halftime.
-- Four Sporting Kansas City players made their MLS debuts on Saturday: Omar Bravo (2 goals), C.J. Sapong (1 goal), Milos Stojcev and Julio Cesar.
-- Defender Luke Sassano made his first appearance for Sporting Kansas City, starting at right back in place of Michael Harrington, listed as questionable with a left groin strain.
-- Bravo, a popular figure for the Chivas USA fanbase, participated in a press conference on Friday at the Home Depot Center and also attended an autograph and picture session following Saturday’s game with select Chivas USA fans.
-- Fellow striker Kei Kamara, who worked on the operations staff at the Home Depot Center while attending on-campus Cal State Dominguez Hills, signed autographs with Chivas USA midfielder Michael Lahoud for supporters of the School of Salone. Both were born in Sierra Leone and agreed to help raise money for the organization’s cause.
-- The 2011 season opener was Sporting Kansas City’s first match under the club’s new name and colors since re-branding in November 2010. The team wore all Sporting blue uniforms in the victory.
-- Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury did not play on Saturday after being listed as questionable with right elbow dislocation.
-- Sapong, starting in place of Bunbury, scored his first professional goal one minute, 43 seconds into Saturday’s match, making it the fastest ever scored by a rookie who started in their debut.
-- The goal bested teammate Michael Harrington, who scored in the third minute of his first MLS appearance on April 14, 2007 in a 4-2 win over D.C. United.
-- Three other MLS players have scored two minutes into their rookie debuts, as Leandre Griffit, Michael Kraus and Josh Wolff all did so as second-half substitutes.
-- Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud played the 219th game of his MLS and KC career, surpassing Preki for 3rd on Kansas City’s all-time chart.
-- Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made three saves in the win, tying Garth Lagerway for sixth on the club’s all-time saves chart.
-- Chivas USA defender Jimmy Conrad was acquired from KC during the 2010 Re-Entry Process and scored on Saturday in his first game for his new club. Conrad, a former captain in Kansas City, spent eight seasons with KC from 2003-2010, appearing in 204 regular season games.
-- Saturday’s match was the first telecast on the team’s new broadcast partner, KSMO-TV, and featured new play-by-play announcer Callum Williams alongside color commentator Sasha Victorine.
-- Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelor” on ABC, joined the broadcast at halftime to be featured for his background in soccer and career in the entertainment industry.
-- KSMO-TV will air the first episode of the station’s weekly 30-minute soccer show “Off the Pitch with Sporting Kansas City” on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. CT.