Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JAY BELL
A stoppage time-goal on Saturday lifted Sporting Kansas City to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union and gave Sporting KC the chance to win the Supporters Shield.
The Union needed a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but Sporting KC were still able to get the best of the chances early. Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes opted to leave both forward Claudio Bieler and midfielder Benny Feilhaber on the bench for the entire game.
Graham Zusi put the visitors on top just 92 seconds into the second half off of a long throw by teammate Matt Besler. Lawrence Olum rose to flick Besler’s long throw from the right side to the back corner of the box. Zusi got free of his marker and headed the ball in past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath for a 1-0 lead.
Forwards Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux and midfielder Roger Torres all began the crucial game on the bench for Philadelphia, but were substituted into the game in the second half as the Union tried to fight their way back into the game. Le Toux nearly found an equalizer on a volley in the 72nd minute, just two minutes after entering.
McInerney saw his only chance in the 76th minute when a deflection off of a corner kick fell to him in the middle of the box, but a glancing shot headed off of the line. The young forward gave Philadelphia some hope in the 88th minute when Jeff Parke headed a ball back into the box and behind the defense. McInerney tucked the ball into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.
A flick by Zusi sprung Teal Bunbury 45 seconds into stoppage time. Bunbury found Jacob Peterson for a shot on goal, but MacMath made the save and kept the Union in the game. A punt by Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made its way to the opposite right corner and the Sporting KC attackers surged forward to outnumber the Union defense. Bunbury worked hard to win the ball back and found Olum open for the game-winner.
The win gives Sporting KC 58 points for the regular season. Only the New York Red Bulls (56) are still within striking distance for the Supporters Shield. A loss or draw by the Red Bulls will give the Kansas City club its first Supporters Shield since 2000. Sporting KC have finished atop the Eastern Conference in the first two seasons since rebranding.
The loss eliminated the Union from playoff contention. Head coach John Hackworth’s side will miss the playoffs for the second straight year. The team has made the playoffs just once in its first four seasons in MLS.