By TYLER DAY
The two clubs that allowed the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference last year stayed true to form on Saturday, as Sporting KC and Chicago battled to a 0-0 draw.
Both teams seemed to execute their strategies heading into the game, but neither could find a quality finish for their numerous chances.
Sporting, playing in its home opener, dominated possession all game. They came out aggressive and finished the contest with a 73-27 edge in possession, 20-7 difference in shots, and a mammoth 608 to 221 margin in passes.
“I thought it was a better step towards a full 90 this game,” said Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi. “Nothing wrong with our possession but we could have created a little more with our chances.”
After a rocky 3-1 opening day victory at Philadelphia, Kansas City fell 2-1 at Toronto last week. Saturday’s home opener vs. the Fire was supposed to get their promising season back on track.
Newcomer Claudio Bieler had a significant scoring chance in the 53rd minute off a Sean Johnson deflected save, but the club still seems to miss Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara, key players in the attack from last year’s Eastern Conference regular season championship team.
Chicago, who has yet to score through three games, seemed content to sit back and take advantage off the counter-attack.
“It was clear a little bit of their game plan was to break our rhythm,” added Zusi, “with tic-tac fouls in the middle of the park. Obviously we need to look past that and get the ball back in play as quickly as possible.”
Chicago had an early chance in the 11th minute, when Chris Rolfe’s shot from outside the box rolled wide. He and Sherjill MacDonald were a touch better up front than last week, but were still unable to put anything on the score sheet.
A controversial moment happened midway through the first 45, when Fire defender Jalil Anibaba had a clearance attempt in the box bounce off the ground straight into his outstretched hand. The referee made no call.
Sporting pressed the Fire in the second 45, especially down the left side with Seth Sinovic and substitute Soony Saad.
Only 3 of Sporting’s 20 chances were on target, and Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was again on top of his game to deny the opportunities.
Zusi had probably the best chance of the day in the 84th minute when he sprung free in front of goal, but his shot from just outside the 6-yard box skied over the bar.
The Fire will return home a little frustrated they didn’t steal the three points late. In the 90th minute, Rolfe slipped surprise starter Daniel Paladini through in the box, but a heavy touch led the ball right to Kansas City’s goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Paladini started the game for Joel Lindpere, who had his 91-game MLS start streak snapped. Arne Friedrich and Chicago captain Logan Pause were out again with injuries, but the patchwork back line remained strong enough to preserve the clean sheet.
2011 MLS Rookie of the Year C.J. Sapong started in place of Bobby Convey on the wing for Sporting, and was a target with his speed all afternoon.
Chicago (0-2-1) heads back home to host Chivas USA next Sunday, while Kansas City (1-1-1) hits the road to take on New England on Saturday.