By GARRETT DAVEY
The first time Sporting Kansas City walked off the field after a match at Livestrong Sporting Park, back on June 9th, the club was mired in a ten-match winless streak and buried in last place in the Eastern Conference.
On Tuesday night, with those rough early days firmly in the rearview mirror, Sporting KC completed a 15-week climb up the standings, into sole possession of first place. A Julius James own goal created with the help of an impressive Matt Besler throw-in provided the difference as Sporting KC posted a crucial 2-1 victory at a sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park.
The win pushed Sporting into first place, two points clear of second-place Houston, marking the first since since April 23, 2009 the club has held first place. The defeat dropped the Columbus Crew to third place in the East. Winless in six matches, the Crew have seen their once hefty hold on first place in the East evaporate.
“I liked my position like six games ago when we had 40 pts and everyone else had 30,” said Crew head coach Robert Warzycha.
Sporting controlled possession for much of the match and outshot Columbus to earn all three points on the night. A Kei Kamara penalty gave Kansas City the lead briefly, but was matched by Emilio Renteria’s right-footed blast into the Jimmy Nielsen’s net. A second half Julius James own goal put Sporting on top, and Sporting would not look back.
Kei Kamara finished his penalty with aplomb in the 15th minute after the Crew’s Chad Marshall brought down C.J. Sapong in the penalty area. Chance Myers made an opportunistic interception in the center of the pitch and passed the ball to Sapong, who slipped past his defender only to be clipped from behind by Marshall.
The Crew equalized in the 34th minute on Emilio Renteria’s right footed blast into the lower left corner. The goal, assisted by Robbie Rogers, came against the run of play, but lifted the visitors' spirits for the remainder of the half. “We had this big space between the back line and the midfield that just over committed,” said Peter Vermes, “and then all of a sudden when Rogers got the ball he just came right at us.”
Sapong was strong up front for Sporting, making good runs and holding up play well. Kamara continues to be a dynamo on the wings, while Chance Myers was indefatigable, coming from the back to provide great support to the offense.
One player who drew praise from Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes was captain Davy Arnaud, who stepped into the starting lineup and provided a major impact in midfield.
“Davy was a big part of our success is due to him being on the field," Vermes said/ "Not only was his energy fantastic, but he picked some really important moments to get some fouls for us which calmed the game down a little bit.”
Columbus was determined, putting in a strong defensive effort only to give up an own goal in the 74th minute. Coming from a Matt Besler throw-in into the box, Julius James rose above everyone to loop a header over Crew keeper William Hesmer and into the back of the net.
“We talked a before the game about the long throw that Besler has, and that he’s going to throw the ball inside the six and you have to stay in front of Kamara, you cannot come from the side," Warzycha said. "That caused confusion. (James) made the decision. He thought he was going to get the ball and from the bounce it ended up in our own net.”
Sporting KC (10-9-11, 41pts) will to strengthen their hold on first place when they travel to San Jose on Saturday. Columbus (11-11-8, 41pts) will try to get back to its winning ways against D.C. United at home on Sunday.