Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen - pure class on Wednesday night for Sporting KC, and vital in picking up an away draw against Philadelphia Union.
You know how it goes - it's not as if you can bring just any game back to your mom; there are expectations. I mean, this is the beautiful game after all. So, you can't bring just anything back and say 'hey Mom, I'd like you to meet a game'... even if that game got you a crucial away point in one of the most difficult venues to play of the season, it has to at least be flowing or have brilliant counter attacks...
A game full of last-ditch defending and clearances followed by hopeful long balls and otherwise poor passing just isn't going to cut - at least not as the game that you want her to meet specifically. On the other hand, if you're at the family reunion BBQ and everyone else shows up with a game, I'm sure that your mom would be cordial enough. Sure, it's ugly, but it earned a point, right? When it's all said and done, people are going to be looking at those ugly, ugly games that still earned points, point to those and say "now those points were important."
That, right there, is what best describes Wednesday's match-up between Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union. We will try and soon forget the ugly nature in which that point was earned but will treasure such away points greatly, especially against such talented opposition in such a difficult place to visit.
Ok, so what makes an ugly game... well, ugly? Well, statistics can be misleading at times, not to mention that they don't always do such a good job translating to soccer, but in this case they don't lie. Sporting Kansas City claimed a mere 40% possession for the game and a measly 8 goal attempts, none of which were even 'on goal'. The Union, on the other hand, had 26 attempts and 7 required saves by Sporting KC's goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen - who was easily Kansas City's best and definitely most important player on the pitch.
It just didn't seem that things weren't ever going to happen for Kansas City. Graham Zusi had managed to pick up a knock and was out for the game. Defensive standout Aurelien Collin was missing due to yellow card accumulation, Julio Cesar taking his place - a move that downright frightened many fans due to the suspect defending demonstrated by Cesar earlier on in the season. At least Zusi's replacement was Kei Kamara, so there wasn't nearly as much concern there. Another change that was made in the starting XI was that of Teal Bunbury taking the spot from CJ Sapong, despite Sapong scoring the lone goal (and first ever in LIVESTRONG Sporting Park) on Friday.
Whether it was the effect of missing these players, a difficult away environment, an effect of the quick turnaround on games or just an off day, it didn't seem like Sporting could string together too many passes in a row. Passing was bad, players turned over the ball often and far too much the team tried to utilize the long ball with extremely limited success. Most viewed Sporting to be lucky to be even at half.
That's not to say that Sporting were totally void of any chances - on the contrary, they actually proved to, at the very least, be able to steal a goal should Philadelphia lose concentration, which was something that almost happened at one point when Kamara was able to pounce on a Philly mistake, but put his shot past the far post. Omar Bravo also had a half-chance when a beautiful cross-field ball made its way to him in a good position in front of goal, but Bravo had to try to take it quickly and couldn't keep the shot down.
Fortunately, the second half did start off much better than the entirety of the first half as Sporting were even able to push the Union back into their half for a bit. Sapong had come on to replace Bunbury at half, though how much he directly contributed to the resurgence is up for debate. It was not to last, however, as the home crowd spurred the home team on and helped them regain dominance. Carlos Ruiz proved to be quite difficult (beating Nielsen once only to strike the crossbar) and Sebastien Le Toux also got into good shooting positions only to miss the target for the most part.
The impact of the absence of Ryan Smith for the remainder of the season was also felt to some effect when Michael Harrington came on to replace Bravo. Harrington is generally considered to do better in defense than farther up the pitch; that and the fact that Harrington was replacing Bravo clearly demonstrated the lack of a true replacement for Ryan Smith at this point (though finding such a player is not easy by any stretch of the imagination).
The deeper the game went into the second half, the more dominance that the Union showed on the field and the more obvious it became that Sporting would be more than happy to come away with a single point. Kansas City continued to drop deeper and deeper in defense and resigned to just clearing the ball anywhere downfield when turning over the ball. Sapong did seem to be a bit more lively than Bunbury was, who seems to still be in the 'funk' that he has been in lately, but he became more and more increasingly isolated to the point where he really had nobody to dump the ball off on if he was able to hold play up at all.
Ultimately, Sporting were able to survive without conceding and picked up a very important away point, particularly after missing out on so many away points earlier in the season. It wasn't pretty and it won't be a game that lives on in the memories of all Sporting Kansas City fans, but it sure is nice to get a point and keep the undefeated streak alive. (Now at six games without a loss) When it comes to playing on the road, that's all that anyone could ever seriously ask for.