Eastern Conference foes beware; Sporting Kansas City is charging back up the table and coming for you.
Stuck in last place just over a month ago, Kansas City took another huge step towards rendering their slow start moot Saturday night with a 2-1 victory in Portland. Sporting (5-6-5) is now unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions, 4-0-1 in their last five in the league and have moved all the way up into fourth place in the conference.
C.J. Sapong opened the scoring with a superb solo effort, Aurelien Collin scored from a long throw-in and solid defending kept Darlington Nagbe’s screamer from being more than a highlight as manager Peter Vermes’ team defeated the Timbers in what Vermes called their best road performance yet.
“We’ve had some good results on the road this year,” he said, “but I think this takes the cake so far. The crowd was amazing. It was a very difficult environment for us to play in.”
But for all the plaudits the Timber’s Army received, their presence didn’t seem to affect Kansas City much. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect. Sporting scored twice in the game’s first 20 minutes and limited Portland to one shot in the entire first half.
“This kind of atmosphere works for both teams,” Sapong said. “It gets everyone on the field hyped. We knew that they were going to come out high energy given the fact that they were home. We just wanted to match that and play to our strengths.”
That meant trying to keep the ball on the ground and playing through Sapong on the offensive end, a strategy that worked perfectly on the game’s opening goal.
After receiving the ball with his back to goal, Sapong spun Eric Brunner, made a beeline toward goal and cut onto his left foot before sliding the ball under Troy Perkins for his third goal of the season. And just four minutes later, he helped set up the game winner.
Matt Besler’s long throw reached him at the near post, where Sapong got the faintest of touches to move the ball along to Collin, who acrobatically applied the finish and negated any advantage the home team may have still had.
“My job is solely to get a flick on it,” Sapong said. “Everybody else behind me is crashing and hoping they are in the right spot. Aurelien was and he put it in the net.”
And although Nagbe brought Portland back into the game with a piece of sublime skill just before half, Sporting held on tight to another victory and another three points.
“The only negative that I have is that we gave a few too many free kicks,” Vermes said. “That was their wheelhouse. Outside of that, I thought we did a really good job throughout the course of the game.”