Sporting Kansas City fans had a number of concerns heading into Saturday's matchup with the Columbus Crew. Albeit, the loss of four Sporting Kansas City regulars to international duty, along with Dom Dwyer's loan to Orlando City SC, was justified apprehension, the most concerning factor seemed to be the loss of Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough FC and how it would affect the Kansas City attack.
Well, It didn't take long Saturday night for Soony Saad and company to let everyone know that Sporting Kansas City's attack isn't going away anytime soon, as the home side regained sole-possession of the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 victory over the Columbus Crew.
"I felt like everyone here stepped up as a team and it really shows the depth that we have," Saad said after the game. "Three different guys scored today, and like I said before it was a complete performance. I think that this is real big for us to keep on building character."
Saad logged another solid performance for Sporting Kansas City, netting a world-class strike in the 41st minute which put the home side up 2-0 after a 7th minute penalty-kick conversion by Claudio Bieler got the scoring started.
Referee Jose Rivero issued the penalty after Columbus midfielder Will Trapp caught the legs of Benny Feilhaber inside the box. Bieler wasted no time stepping up to the spot to net his 10th goal on the year, and just his first since July 13th. The goal capped off what proved to be the Argentinean's most well-rounded performance of the year.
"I thought outside the goal he [Claudio Bieler] scored, I thought he was really, really good tonight," manager Peter Vermes said in the postgame press conference. "I thought his play in between the lines was excellent. He was laying off balls and holding the ball up for us. He was very busy in making sure that they weren't comfortable with the ball in the back. He knows that's what we want. He brings that, and he's a very valuable player for us."
Both goals capped off a dominating first-half performance in which Columbus maintained minimal possession, and only put one shot on target. In fact, the Crew's first-threatening look at goal didn't come about until the 64th minute when a skipping shot found the arms of Jimmy Nielsen.
From that shot on, Columbus seemed to be in desperation mode, especially after CJ Sapong's header in the 55th minute, off the foot of Oriol Rosell, put Vermes' squad up 3-0.
"It was more of a statement to myself," Sapong added when asked about the goal and match as a whole. "It's always good when you show everybody around you that you can provide an impact. Like I said, it's good for me. It's been a pretty up and down season. I just kind of take it as it comes. It's a night that I can celebrate and reward myself."
The 3-0 scoreline proved to be more than enough to topple the Crew, as Sporting Kansas City finished out the match with the same dominance that was displayed throughout the first-half, only allowing Columbus six shots on target with just 47 percent of the possession.
"I thought from start to finish there was no doubt that we were the dominate team," Vermes said. "We really gave absolutely nothing away defensively. Scoring three goals, especially with the change they made to their coach here recently, there's no way of knowing the high-spike with the emotional level of a team. But, I thought with our guys' work ethic, we just out worked them during the course of the game. And the other reason is I think that we "out-soccered" them; we just played the ball very, very well and created great chances, and finished some great goals."
Vermes also added that the team received some extra motivation from newly-elected Columbus Crew coach Brian Bliss, who said Wednesday that it was going to "be nice to go in there and punch the bully in the nose."
"It's always nice when the opposing team's coach gives you a little bit of extra motivation with some of the comments they made before coming in. It makes my job of trying to motivate the players really, really easy."
With the victory, Sporting Kansas City moves to 13-9-6 on the year and back in sole-possession of first-place in the Eastern Conference, while Columbus drops to 9-14-5. Vermes and company will have a lengthy break in MLS action before heading to Toronto September 21st. The squad's next match, though, will be September 17th at Sporting Park against Real Esteli FC in CONCACAF Champions League play.