By TATE STEINLAGE
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chances were plenty in Kansas City Sunday, but a majority of them ended up favoring the team in blue — Sporting Kansas City — as it cruised past the Columbus Crew 2-0 and into a tie for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
On an afternoon where Sporting KC received its 2013 MLS Cup championship rings, the home fans enjoyed goals in both halves, including a late, 95th-minute goal from forward Claudio Bieler that helped cap off the celebratory day.
The score was Bieler’s first in the 2014 MLS regular season, coming eight minutes after subbing on for forward Dom Dwyer. His effort followed an unclear advantage call by referee Ismail Elfath, which froze the Crew defense long enough for Bieler to find space for the easy tap in.
“Obviously (there’s been) two or three games where I haven’t played, but I’ve kept my head up,” Bieler said after the match. “When I’m called upon, I will deliver. That’s what I did today.”
Sporting KC’s finish to the match was aided by an 81st-minute red card issued to Columbus midfielder Wil Trapp after he picked up his second yellow. The send off made the uphill battle that much harder for Columbus.
“In all honesty, Kansas City is a better team right now,” Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter said. “We’re not there yet. But I think that it’s the way that we presented ourselves in the first half that I was disappointed with. The second half, we came out and we played. We played how we know how to play, and it was better. For that, I’m proud of the guys.”
Despite an equal first half in the statistical department, it was Sporting KC that held a firm grip around the pace of the game. Chances started budding for the home team minutes following kickoff, with the payoff coming in the 10th minute when Jacob Peterson hit the back of the net for the match’s first goal.
The score followed a quality sideline to sideline pass from defender Matt Besler to forward Graham Zusi, who led defender Chance Myers up the right flank for a rolling cross inside the 18. The pass met midfielder Paulo Nagamura’s right foot for an opportunity, but it would be blocked and bounced around before Peterson scissor-kicked his chance past Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark.
“It’s been a while, at least in MLS play,” Peterson said about netting his first league goal this season. “That’s ultimately your role (as a forward). We have a lot of other facets of the game that, especially in this system, Peter (Vermes) demands out of the wingers and the forwards, but at the end of the day you’re out there to score.”
Sporting KC continued to push number’s forward following the goal, while the Crew searched for any sort of continuity. The visitors had to wait 31 minutes for a Will Trapp to Bernardo Anor header to find their rhythm, but even that opportunity yielded no goal.
The 1-0 scoreline would be taken into the locker room. Columbus would come out for the second half with a much better effort in the attack thanks to an excellent halftime substitution that brought on the speedy forward Dominic Oduro. But the Crew’s best chances — coming in the 63rd and 65th minute — would be stopped by the excellent goalkeeping of Eric Kronberg.
“(From) start to finish, (it was an) excellent performance by us,” manager Peter Vermes said. “I thought it was the best performance of the year for us. One of the most difficult things in the game today was the weather. We have haven’t had a chance to play in this kind of weather. Having to come out here in the 80’s — it was very difficult — the guys left everything on the field.”
The result gives Sporting KC another three points and improves its record to 4-2-2 as they now look to a weekend match in Montreal against the Impact. Columbus’ record falls to 3-2-3. They will look to bounce back with a midweek clash in Houston against the Dynamo.
Here are the match highlights: