Matt Besler came off the bench Sunday to nod home a dramatic game-winner in the 91st minute of Sporting Kansas City’s pulsating 3-2 victory over Columbus Crew SC at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park.
Ola Kamara scored in either half for the visitors, while Sporting Kansas City received a 49th-minute penalty kick from Benny Feilhaber and a sublime long-range strike from Graham Zusi seven minutes later. The hosts held a man advantage for most of the second period and were rewarded for their dominance in stoppage time as Besler notched his first MLS goal since October 2011.
The pivotal result gave Sporting Kansas City (7-8-4, 25 points) its first three-goal game of 2016 and more importantly lifted the club into fourth place in the Western Conference table. Columbus (3-6-7, 16 points) stays second-from-bottom in the East and without a win in four games.
UPHORIA: The day after Sporting KC wins, Sporting KC Uphoria users can enjoy a complementary appetizer with a $20 purchase at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.).
PAPA JOHN'S: The day after Sporting KC scores two or more goals, use promo code SPORTINGKC at papajohns.com to get 50% off each regular menu price pizza in an order placed with participating Kansas City area locations.
Manager Peter Vermes made five changes to Sporting Kansas City's lineup from Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup defeat at the Houston Dynamo. Dom Dwyer and Jacob Peterson returned to the attack, while Ike Opara and Saad Abdul-Salaam slotted back into defense. Goalkeeper Alec Kann made way for Tim Melia, who earned his 10th consecutive start of the 2016 regular season.
Sunday’s contest unfolded in breathless fashion with both sides looking capable and dangerous going forward. Dwyer was on the end of the first clear opportunity in the 10th minute, directing Peterson’s pinpoint cross wide from the edge of the six-yard box. Goalkeeper Steve Clark was forced to make his first save seconds later, palming Zusi’s curling strike back into the danger area before the visitors cleared.
After sustaining an initial wave of pressure, Crew SC broke on the counter attack and almost went ahead on 12 minutes, but Melia produced an outstanding kick save to thwart Ethan Finlay. Sporting KC kept its foot on the pedal shortly thereafter, with Dwyer and Medranda both seeing shots saved by Clark before the 15-minute mark.
A costly giveaway from Sporting Kansas City near midfield led to the game’s first goal in the 22nd minute courtesy of Kamara, who had pulled a close-range shot inches wide three minutes earlier. Right back Harrison Afful was played into space down the right flank by Finlay and rolled a low ball across the surface, allowing Kamara to tap home for an easy finish and his sixth goal in just 10 MLS appearances.
The hosts responded positively after conceding the opener, moving the ball at a high tempo and continuing to ask questions of the Columbus defense. Zusi unleashed a missile in the 27th minute from beyond the left edge of the penalty box, and while Clark spilled his save, no one was on hand to clean up the rebound near the goalmouth. The U.S. international came even closer in the 36th minute, bending a superb 25-yard free kick over Crew SC’s four-man wall, but the admirable effort rattled the crossbar and left an 80th straight sellout crowd ruing Zusi’s luck.
Melia had more work to do just before halftime, denying Kamara with a sprawling save after the Norwegian forward had gathered a cutback pass from Finlay and fired low on target.
Sporting Kansas City opened the second half with a vengeance, nearly equalizing two minutes after the restart when Opara’s lunging effort off a Feilhaber free kick was saved by the well-positioned Clark. Dwyer received a yellow card from referee Ted Unkel a few moments later, ruling the striker out of Sporting KC's home match against New York City FC next Sunday.
The complexion of the match would change drastically a minute later when former Kansas City defender Tyson Wahl was issued a red card for taking Dwyer to the ground on the breakaway. Feilhaber buried the ensuing spot kick, his 12th straight penalty conversion in Sporting colors and his fifth goal of the 2016 campaign in all competitions.
Besler entered the match as a 53rd-minute substitute, replacing Lawrence Olum, but it was Sporting Kansas City’s other Designated Player who hammered his side ahead with a brilliant strike on 56 minutes. Zusi found a central channel of space and drove toward goal, sending a 22-yard rocket into the low corner with his weaker left foot. The U.S. international tallied his first MLS goal since last August, which coincidentally came at Columbus when the clubs most recently met.
Despite spending large parts of the final half-hour defending, Crew SC would punch back with a 75th-minute equalizer against the run of play. Tony Tchani slipped a deft through ball to Kamara, who curled a side-footer past Melia and just inside the right corner of the net.
Columbus would continue to weather the storm brought forth by a relentless Sporting KC attack, but only until second-half stoppage time. Vermes’ men secured three priceless points with a well-orchestrated move that began with Medranda’s left boot. The diminutive full back sent a precise cross from the right wing to the far left post, where Opara rose to cushion a header back across the face of goal. Besler was on hand to head into an empty net for his third career MLS tally and his first in 121 regular season appearances.
The Eastern Conference leaders await Sporting Kansas City next Sunday as New York City FC (7-5-6, 27 points) makes its inaugural visit to Children's Mercy Park. Led by Designated Players Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and the league's top scorer David Villa, NYCFC owns an MLS-best four road wins in 2016. The marquee matchup will kick off at 7 p.m. CT on FS1 and FOX Deportes with a limited number of tickets available at Ticketmaster.com.
2016 MLS Regular Season
Game 19 of 34
Children's Mercy Park | Kansas City, Kansas
Attendance: 19,332 (80th straight sellout)
Weather: 70 degrees and cloudy
Watch: Benny Feilhaber buries PK (49')
Watch: Graham Zusi nets sublime strike (56')
Watch: Matt Besler scores winner (91')
Postgame reaction: Matt Besler
Postgame reaction: Graham Zusi
Postgame reaction: Peter Vermes
Final: Full highlights
|Sporting Kansas City (7-8-4, 25 pts)||0||3||3|
|Columbus Crew SC (3-6-7, 16 pts)||1||1||2|
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Lawrence Olum (Matt Besler 54), Jimmy Medranda; Benny Feilhaber (Justin Mapp 83), Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza (C); Jacob Peterson (Brad Davis 78), Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Subs Not Used: Alec Kann, Seth Sinovic, Connor Hallisey, Diego Rubio
Columbus Crew SC: Steve Clark; Harrison Afful, Michael Parkhurst (C), Tyson Wahl, Corey Ashe; Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani, Hector Jimenez (Chad Barson 50), Wil Trapp (Dilly Duka 73), Justin Meram (Rodrigo Saravia 78); Ola Kamara
Subs Not Used: Brad Stuver, Waylon Francis, Mohammed Saeid, Cristian Martinez
|Shots on Goal||9||5|
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber (caution; unsporting behavior) 13
CLB -- Tyson Wahl (ejection; denying of obvious goal scoring opportunity) 48
SKC -- Dom Dwyer (caution; persistent infringement) 51
SKC -- Matt Besler (caution; unsporting behavior) 66
CLB -- Harrison Afful (caution; unsporting behavior) 82
SKC -- Jimmy Medranda (caution; unsporting behavior) 84
CLB -- Ola Kamara 6 (Harrison Afful 2, Ethan Finlay 6) 22
SKC -- Benny Feilhaber 4 (penalty kick) 49
SKC -- Graham Zusi 1 (Roger Espinoza 3) 56
CLB -- Ola Kamara 7 (Tony Tchani 1) 75
SKC -- Matt Besler 1 (Ike Opara 1, Jimmy Medranda 2) 91+