Sporting Kansas City players and fans alike would not let a little thing like multiple tornado touchdowns across the entire Greater Kansas City metro area deter them from enjoying their very first competitive game in Kansas City on the 2011 season. Once scary weather cleared up in the early afternoon (sort of), Peter Vermes' side had to have been chomping at the bit to play in front of a home crowd for the first time since October 23, 2010. And, my oh my, did it show on the field. And they are now in the official US Open Cup tournament, having won their qualifying bracket.
From the very start, the game was dominated by Sporting KC playing against a very understrength New England Revolution reserve-laden squad. With Sporting playing about half-and-half of a first team and reserve side, they looked to over-power New England and impose their will, and so they did. Without official stats, possession had to have been close to a 60-40 split in favor of the home side.
Chance Myers got things off to a flying start in the 9th minute with his first first-team goal of the 2011 season, having scored three over the last two reserve league games, but he wasn't done yet. Designated player and forward Omar Bravo helped to make Myers' second goal happen, just as he had done on the California kid's first score of the night. On the first, it was a perfectly placed cross to Myers at the top of the 6-yard box. The second, a saved shot by Bravo that spilled inside the six- and fell right to Myers, who coolly poked it past Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth to make it 2-0 just 19 minutes into the game.
Unlike was the case early on in the season when Sporting relented early leads, the defense held compact and kept New England from pulling one back before the half.
In fact, it was Sporting that got the third goal of the game before the half, just five minutes later when CJ Sapong found himself on the business end of a Seth Sinovic, giving an inspired performance against his former team, cross directly in front of goal. It was Sapong's first goal in any competition since he scored the extra time game-winner against Houston Dynamo in KC's last Open Cup qualifier. Playing in a position in which he looks much more comfortable, the center forward role of the 4-3-3, Sapong had his best game since the season opener, where he also played as the center forward. No coincidence here. Like Myers, CJ wasn't satisfied with just one goal either.
As Sporting continued to largely dominating the game through lots of possession in the second half, a fourth goal was very much brewing until defender Aurelien Collin found himself scoring his first goal since joining Sporting KC in mid-April. Forward Ryan Smith came on for Bravo after 10 minutes in the second half and immediately went to work in his usual "Ryan Smith fashion." After beating Ryan Kinne down the left sideline and to the endline, Smith played a floating cross into the box that found the head of Collin at the backpost. The big Frenchman used his 6-foot-3 frame to get up and win the header clean and it was off to the races to avoid the tackles of his teammates to celebrate.
I mentioned Sapong wasn't satisfied with just one goal, right? He certainly showed the appetite for another when he simply out-manned and over-powered a Revs centerback to quite simply take the ball from him and move in on goal, one on one with the keeper. As he did against Chivas USA in the opener, he banged it home to the outside post, only this time it was the right side of goal.
Perhaps the most impressive and promising thing to take from this game was the sure play of the defense and the extreme lack of scoring chances for New England. Or, was it the way the midfield played together and dominated all facets of the game? Because that played a huge part in the victory, as well.
The midfield trio of Craig Rocastle, Luke Sassano and Graham Zusi looked to be in complete control of the game for as long as they were on the field. Zusi pulled the strings, and all the right ones on this night, spraying 40-yard diagonal balls to Bravo on the left and Myers on the right. But, he only had that luxury of time to make such passes because of the dirty work and ball-winning of Sassano and Rocastle, who together brought a collective enforcement to the midfield that the team has been missing all season.
The centerback pairing of Collin and Matt Besler once again showed that it deserves to be the first choice whenever healthy. Michael Harrington looked more like Harrington circa 2010 more so than the 2011 version which has struggled, and Sinovic seems to be in the driver's seat to pick up the minutes vacated by Roger Espinoza during his absence for the Gold Cup.
Sporting are through to the third round of the 2011 US Open Cup, where they will play on June 28, in what should be a home game against a non-MLS club. Chances of progression to the Round of Eight seem to be pretty good.
Man of the Match: As I made the case on the live postgame show/podcast, Graham Zusi was the maestro in the middle of the park and allowed the forwards acres of space to work in and create goals. It's that kind of performance from a midfielder the team has been lacking all season, thus keeping the team off the scoresheet for three straight games in league play. Myers and Sapong get honorable mentions for their performances, and Myers probably wins it on most nights, but for me, it was Zusi that was the biggest difference maker in position of weakness.