Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sporting Kansas City have developed a knack for winning games in the dying seconds of the match.
For the second time in four days, Sporting KC won on a last-minute goal, this time coming from the right foot of Benny Feilhaber as he launched a rocket off the underside of the crossbar in the 93rd minute to give his side a stunning 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night in Crew Stadium. Feilhaber finished the match with a goal and an assist, providing the service for Sporting KC’s opening goal scored by C.J. Sapong.
Both Sporting KC and the Crew finished the match with ten men as Aurelien Collin and Wil Trapp were given their marching orders in the second half.
The visitors, who were playing without Graham Zusi in the lineup, were able to quickly establish control of the game’s rhythm and frustrate the Crew. Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark and his back line were constantly pressured by the Sporting KC front trio of Sapong, Dom Dwyer, and Sooney Saad, which caused turnovers and forced the Crew out of their comfort zone.
“I thought we did a great job in the first half to shut everything down,” Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes said following the match. “They were having a difficult time playing out the back, which I think we frustrated them. We caused a lot of turnovers in their half of the field.”
The Crew were able to create a few chances in the first half down the right wing, with Ethan Finlay proving to be a menace. However, though Finlay drew a couple of free kicks and had a couple of crossing opportunities, his final balls into the area were poor and off target.
Three minutes before halftime, Sapong took advantage of his rare starting opportunity to head Sporting KC into the lead.
Sapong connected on a corner kick from Benny Feilhaber, and with hardly any Crew players marking him, powered the corner past Clark in goal.
“Benny was playing good balls on the couple of previous corners and I just wanted to find a space between the (defenders),” Sapong said. “It was fortunate for the ball to come into my path and just tried to put it on goal and it ended up going in.”
Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter made two changes at halftime, bringing on Adam Bedell and Bernardo Anor for Daniel Paladini and Justin Meram, respectively, but both were unable to have a huge impact, except for an incident in the 55th minute.
“We needed to change things up so we brought Adam [Bedell] in,” Berhalter said. “I think he had a good effect in the game. There was a lot more urgency in the second half and I was much more pleased with the performance in the second half than in the first.”
Both the 6’7” Bedell and Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin went into a challenge, with Bedell coming off worst. Though both seemed to have their arms well away from their bodies, Collin was shown a red card by referee Edvin Jurisevic after consulting with his assistant.
Vermes, who complained at the time to the fourth official about the decision, was still debating the validity of the red card after the match as well.
“They always change games,” Vermes said about the red card. “Especially ones that aren’t deserved. That’s why when you pull the card out, you’ve got to be sure that it’s a red card.”
The Crew responded well to the man advantage and soon controlled the rhythm of the game. Sporting KC dropped deeper on defense but were able to keep the Crew out of the goal until the 69th minute.
Anor dribbled through the heart of the Sporting KC defense and slipped a ball through to teammate Chad Barson. Barson met the ball at the byline and chipped a ball towards teammate Federico Higuain in the six-yard box. Before Higuain could get to it, Sporting KC youngster Igor Julião got his head on the ball and directed it into his own net.
The Crew began to push for their second goal but the new central defensive partnership of Matt Besler and Kevin Ellis held strong against Finlay and Bedell.
However, the game changed again in the 89th minute when Wil Trapp was shown a second yellow card for clipping an Sporting KC player, reducing the match to a 10 v. 10 contest.
In the third minute of stoppage time, Sporting KC regained the lead for good. Julião advanced down the right wing and cut towards the top of the box, where substitute Jacob Peterson was. Peterson cushioned the ball into the path of Feilhaber, who fired home a laser past Clark to give Sporting KC another thrilling victory.
“Well, Igor made a really good play down the line as soon as he was able to turn his guy and make a run towards the end line,” Feilhaber said. “Me and Jake [Jacob Peterson] and a couple other guys started making our way to the top of the box. I was calling for it in Portuguese from him.
“I think he heard me as well, he chopped it back perfectly for me. I don’t think Jake knew it was coming but luckily he even cushioned it for me. I just tried to make good contact and aim towards that back post.”
With the defeat, the Crew extended their winless streak to seven matches and have won just one match in their last 16 games.
“The way we performed, we didn’t deserve to win that game,” Berhalter said. “It wasn’t a pretty soccer game. The whole thing wasn’t pretty. Our job is to come out here and entertain the fans and play attractive soccer and we didn’t do that. We didn’t live up to our end of the bargain tonight.”
For Sporting KC, they’ve now won four consecutive road matches and sit atop the Eastern Conference with 32 points, one point ahead of D.C. United.