Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara did a lot of running forward and tracking back against Chivas USA on Saturday night. His work rate was outstanding.
With several key injuries, Sporting Kansas City started the season with a lineup that included five players making their debut for the team. However, the team still used the 4-3-3 which has been the norm under technical director/head coach Peter Vermes.
Omar Bravo made his long awaited debut on the left wing while rookie C.J. Sapong took up the target striker position. Milos Stojcev was inserted at the top of the midfield triangle. He became the pivot between the midfield and forwards. This relegated Stephane Auvray to a bench spot. He would later come in for Craig Rocastle who went out with a leg injury in the 20th minute. Michael Harrington was battling a groin problem, so Luke Sassano was swapped in at right back. Julio Cesar Santos made his first KC appearance as right center back.
Early mistake nets Sporting KC's first goal
Kansas City look to counter attack
Unlike last season, Kansas City did not play a high pressure defense. Throughout most of the game the backline sat very deep which allowed Chivas the majority of the possession. Nick La Brocca and Francisco Mendoza routinely supported the front line by making runs into the box. This forced Davy Arnaud to sit back further than he is used to. For much of the game, he was on a single line with Auvray, but still had offensive freedom. By committing so many numbers forward, Chivas became very exposed at the back. With one of the more dynamic group of forwards in MLS, this fell right into KC's hands. Sapong harassed Chivas' defensive line early and often, drawing a yellow card for Jimmy Conrad. Sporting squandered several opportunities on the break when the trio failed to link in the final third, but looked very dangerous.
Chivas unable to deal with KC's front line
Kei Kamara's work rate was outstanding. He tracked back on defense and pushed forward to help out on the attack. In the 45th minute, he put in a teasing early cross which the Chivas backline dealt with poorly. Too worried about Sapong, Zarek Valentin misplayed the ball. This allowed Omar Bravo to chip the ball over Zach Thornton for his first goal in Major League Soccer.
Coming out for the second half, not much changed for either team. Kansas City still sat back on defense, and once possession was gained, looked to build up quickly. Chivas got one back when Kansas City failed to deal with a corner. The ball deflected off of Sapong into the lap of Jimmy Conrad, who put it into the back of the net.
In attempt to add some creativity, Chivas made two substitutions after the Conrad goal. Blair Gavin replaced Mendoza in the midfield triangle and Tristan Bowen came on for Marcos Mondaini. Bowen took over the left wing with Justin Braun switching to the right. Neither move had the effect that Chivas were looking for as the creativity to break down Kansas City's defense never came.
Chivas fell victim to Kansas City's physicality again in the 74th minute. Off of a Jimmy Nielsen free kick, Sapong and Kamara won back to back 50-50 headers with the latter falling perfectly into Bravo's path, who finished off the play with another class finish.
Kansas City again fail on defending the corner
Sporting made the final 10 minutes interesting when Sapong failed to push forward when KC cleared a Chivas corner. Nick La Brocca floated a ball back into the box to a wide open Ben Zemanski, who put it by Nielsen.
The keys to game were the lack of creativity shown by the Chivas USA attack and their inability to cope with CJ Sapong and Kamara's physicality. Omar Bravo benefited from their knockdowns and brought something that Sporting severely lacked last year, a poacher who can finish goal scoring opportunities. For all the possession Chivas had, they rarely linked up in the final third, and had to settle with forcing crosses into the box that the Kansas City back line dealt with easily. They had to rely on set pieces to keep the game close.