Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By TATE STEINLAGE
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A week after a disappointing loss, Sporting Kansas City provided a reminder to the rest of the league that the defending MLS Cup champions are still the team to beat.
On the back of a Dom Dwyer brace and goals from Soony Saad and C.J. Sapong, Sporting Kansas City defeated Toronto FC 4-1 Saturday at Sporting Park.
Dwyer pounded in two first-half penalty-kick goals to give the home side a 2-0 lead before Saad and Sapong did the rest to halt any sort of comeback from TFC. Gilberto scored the visitors’ lone goal on a night where little seemed to go their way.
The result moves Sporting KC (12-6-6) into first place in the Supporter’s Shield race with 42 points on the season, while TFC (9-8-5) had their two-match win streak snapped in their third consecutive road game. The victory also eases the sting off last Sunday’s ugly loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“If there’s one thing I can say about the group, no matter how pissed I get sometimes — and I get frustrated with certain things — the mentality of the group is that they understand we’re not going to put that same kind of performance in on a regular basis,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said after the match. “That’s not the mentality of the group.
“When we do what we did against Vancouver, everyone knows that’s not our team. They get back on it quickly and that’s the part I enjoy about the group, they don’t let things linger around and they all have a very good mentality. It’s just us making sure that we have the right approach.”
Opportunities were of no shortage Saturday in an entertaining first half between the two teams. Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber took advantage of the first 17 minutes into the match off a partially cleared corner kick. TFC had plenty of red jerseys inside the six-yard area to fend off a possible Feilhaber cross, but Jackson’s last-ditched effort caught Feilhaber’s boot, sending him to the ground for a penalty kick.
Dwyer, who had attempted and scored all four penalty kicks for Sporting KC coming into the match, stepped up to the spot and pounded a shot high into the back of the net to get the home faithful riled up early.
The lead doubled 15 minutes later in a similar sequence. This time Dwyer drew his own call, as TFC defender Doneil Henry clipped the forward at the knees for the easy whistle. Dwyer chose to fire low on his second attempt from the spot, but the result was the same and the lead 2-0 for Sporting KC. The brace marked Dwyer’s 16th goal on the year and pushed him closer to breaking club legend Preki’s single-season record of 18 goals in 1996. It also ended a five-game scoreless drought.
“I was going to lie to you but yeah obviously it was (getting to me),” Dwyer said about his recent drought. “I think I was trying to force it. Obviously I’ve been really happy at training all week and I’ve been in a good mood, but I was definitely frustrated.
“It’s tough when you lose games, and I guess that’s where your frustration comes out. I’ve had a bit of time to refocus and get things together so hopefully its back to the start of more good things.”
TFC cut the lead shortly thereafter in first-half stoppage time with a goal from Gilberto. The forward made the best of a perfect pass from the speedy Dominic Oduro with a well-executed back heel shot that snuck past 21-year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin for the score.
That would be the last time TFC would celebrate on the night. Sporting KC went on to dominate the second half on the scoreboard. Saad sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a 20-yard golazo in the 64th minute to extend the lead to 3-1. Sapong tallied the final score a little more than 10 minutes later with an easy tap in on a cross from Zusi that was redirected by Saad.
It wasn’t a quiet half for Kempin and the Sporting KC defense by any means, however. TFC forced Sporting KC’s defense to come up big several times in the second half. Kempin stonewalled a one-on-one opportunity with Jackson in the 52nd minute and Aurelien Collin made a 15-yard recovery run in the 72nd minute to keep TFC from scoring a second goal.
“This was not an easy game,” Vermes said. “Toronto is a much improved team. They’re probably one of the best counter-attacking teams in the league at the moment. It was a very difficult match from that point of view and us coming off the heels of our last performance. It’s good for us to get into this position that we are and now it’s off to Champions League.”
Sporting KC will now travel to Nicaragua for a match against Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League Tuesday before returning to league action Saturday at home against D.C. United. Toronto will return home as well Saturday to host the struggling Chicago Fire.