Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — C.J. Sapong may be a hometown kid worth bragging about. But on this night, he left a whole lot of D.C. fans awfully quiet.
The Sporting Kansas City striker and Northern Virginia native nodded home a Graham Zusi corner kick in second-half stoppage time Saturday, shocking the RFK Stadium faithful as the visitors walked away with a 1-0 win over D.C. United to open the 2012 season.
As Sapong was mobbed by his Kansas City teammates, he broke free from the celebration and looked to the pocket of fans who weren't in stunned silence: his local friends and family.
"It's a dream come true," said Sapong, who came on as a 75th-minute substitute. "To see all my family and friends in the stands cheering for me, to see people who were cheering for D.C. cheering for me, it's definitely fulfilling and just an amazing feeling."
Added Zusi: "He probably had 60 people on his guest list. It was awesome that he could do it in front of all those guys."
The strike, which came two minutes into stoppage time, was ample reward for a Kansas City team that controlled the match throughout against a disjointed United squad but couldn't find the right touch in the final third.
Kansas City's three-man midfield of Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza and Zusi did particularly well to dictate the tempo and deny service to United's central duo of Branko Bosovic and Perry Kitchen, halting many would-be D.C. attacks in their infancy.
"We were breaking them down all game," Sapong said. "It was just that final pass and that final shot."
Only the assertive play of goalkeeper Bill Hamid kept United even. The 21-year-old smothered a slew of low, long-range drives from Kansas City, repeatedly denying rebound opportunities.
Hamid's most-stunning stop came at the end of the first half, when he made an athletic kick save on Kei Kamara's point-blank header. Although it wasn't the breakthrough Kansas City wanted, it was the type of chance coach Peter Vermes asked his team to feed off going into the second half.
"We talked about it at halftime," Vermes said. "[I said], 'Look, we're finding good opportunities. We have to just keep pressing those opportunities. You can't get shy about it.'"
There were few such chances for United, as coach Ben Olsen's new-look attack failed to find much cohesion. In his debut, Designated Player signing Hamdi Salihi couldn't make much of an impact while often being isolated up top.
As a withdrawn forward, Dwayne De Rosario showed just a glimpse here and there of the form that earned him league MVP honors last year. Playing his first game in nearly a year after tearing a knee ligament, Boskovic showed little chemistry with Kitchen, a second-year player making a transition from defense to midfield.
Considering the amount of turnover from last year's team that missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year, United are undoubtedly a work in progress. On Saturday, that played right into the hands of Kansas City, a club that returned 10 starters from the squad that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season.
"We deserved it," centerback Aurelien Collin said of the win. "Sometimes, football is not fair. But tonight was fair."
NOTE: United have officially signed a lease term sheet with Events DC to play at RFK Stadium this season, a team spokesman said. While the agreement had been assumed for weeks, talks continued through the days leading up to United's home opener. A formal announcement is expected this week.