Sporting Kansas City earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Portland Timbers FC Friday night at Providence Park. Lawrence Olum scored his first goal of the year as Sporting KC moved into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with D.C. United.
For the 16th consecutive MLS match, Manager Peter Vermes fielded a different starting lineup, as Sporting KC were without Matt Besler and Graham Zusi due to national team duty, Antonio Dovale due to a red card suspension and six other players - including Benny Feilhaber and Claudio Bieler - due to injury.
With a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 fans, the Timbers came out the gate as aggressors, nearly striking first in the eighth minute when Diego Valeri's corner kick fell to Will Johnson at the top of the 18-yard-box. The veteran midfielder took a touch and fired a shot on target, but goalkeeper Eric Kronberg reacted quickly to stop the attempt.
Seven minutes later, the Timbers thought they had gone ahead, but Fanendo Adi's header past Kronberg was negated by an offside whistle.
The veteran goalkeeper was called upon again in the 18th minute when Adi's shot deflected off defender Aurelien Collin and skipped to Valeri. Kronberg darted off his line and stayed big as the Argentine midfielder's shot hit off the goalkeeper's chest.
Kronberg finished the match with three saves en route to his League-leading seventh shutout of the season. The 31-year-old goalkeeper also improved his goals against average to 0.88.
Despite Portland having the better of the chances in the first half, it was Sporting KC who broke through first. The scoring play originated off a long throw-in by Seth Sinovic. The Kansas City native found homegrown defender Kevin Ellis at the penalty spot. Ellis one-timed the ball to Olum who wasted little time hitting a low strike under the out-stretched arm of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
Olum was later subbed off in the 56th minute for precautionary reasons after suffering a hamstring strain. Peter Vermes brought on C.J. Sapong for Olum and moved winger Jacob Peterson to a defensive midfield position.
The home side continued to press in the second half but could not break down the Sporting KC defense. Despite controlling 67% of the possession, the Timbers managed only 11 shots on the night, with three on target.
Sporting Kansas City improved their League-leading road goaldifferential to +2 and are now 7-0-3 in 2014 when scoring first.
Sporting KC will now return home to face the Chicago Fire on Sunday, July 6 at Sporting Park. Limited tickets are available and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 888-4KC-GOAL.