Get this much straight, goalkeeper Sean Johnson beat Sporting Kansas City on Friday at Livestrong Sporting Park. He just brought the Chicago Fire along for the ride.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Johnson faced 27 shots and made five saves — several of the spectacular variety — in a 1-0 victory, which featured a frantic final few minutes as Sporting KC peppered Johnson and arguably deserved a late equalizer.
Leading 1-0 after Marco Pappa caught Sporting KC too far forward less than 15 minutes into the second half, Johnson stood tall in goal and drew praise for her performance from the opposing locker room after the win.
“Sean Johnson was an absolute beast and didn’t let anything get by him,” Sporting forward Teal Bunbury said.
Despite outshooting Chicago 27-10, the game-tying goal just never came for KC.
Starting with the 70th minute when Kei Kamara drew a foul near right sideline, Sporting KC had no shortage of chances to equalize.
Midfielder Graham Zusi’s out-swinging cross after a foul against Kamara found Julio Cesar for a meek header at the back post, which Fire captain Logan Pause headed high allowing Johnson to out-jump Bunbury for the ball in front of goal.
Six minutes later, Sporting left back Seth Sinovic bent in a cross from the left side that found Kamara, who’d snuck inside Fire defender Dan Gargan for a header back to the near post in the 76th minute, but Johnson denied Sporting KC’s leading scorer with a dive right.
Right back Chance Myers crossed to Sinovic who sent it back in front of goal for another hard header by Kamara, but Gargan again managed to get a foot to it and blasted it out of bounds for a corner kick. The corner kick proved fruitless when a header by Aurelien Collin sailed well wide at the far post.
The chances kept coming.
Kamara broke out of the back with a desperate run up the right side in the 92nd minute and sent an early cross for Bunbury at the top of Chicago’s goal box.
Bunbury settled to ball and turned, but rolled his shot inches wide of the far post.
A minute later, Sinovic saved a ball from the end line, heading it back to second-half substitute Soony Saad for a one-time rocket toward the top shelf that Johnson punched high and rookie Austin Berry cleared for a corner kick.
“We had a lot of chances and were putting the ball in the box,” Saad said. “Johnson really kept them in the game and was the man of the match, for sure. The shot that I had, I really can’t believe that he saved it — just great reflexes and we were really unlucky.”
Off the ensuing set piece, Myers narrowly sent a crackling shot at Chicago’s goal in the 94th minute, which wound up behind the Fire goal and prompted many in the crowd of 19,274 — the club’s sixth straight sellout in MLS action — to erupt in celebration.
But this was Johnson’s party.
Sporting KC, which was playing its fifth game in 14 days, kept attacking and nearly pulled even in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Kamara ripped a shot from the left side that Johnson tipped wide for yet another corner kick.
Matt Besler got on the end of that final set piece, but referee Baldomero Toledo blew his whistle after that header sailed wide left of goal.
“(Johnson) was very good at the end,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said. “Soony’s shot was just right at him, but he made some very good saves. … He was outstanding tonight. He was big for them. If he’s not on top of his game like that, it’s a different game.”
The Fire scored the game’s only goal when Pappa went on a run before laying off to Chris Rolfe, who worked a nifty give-and-go and played the ball back to Pappa, a Guatemalan midfielder. Pappa finished it off for his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
That proved to be all the Fire, 8-5-3, needed to draw within two points of Sporting KC, 9-5-2, for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“It wasn’t a planned thing, it was Pappa being lazy and not getting back,” Vermes said. “The ball just pops right out to him, and they go on the counter. At the end, it came down to one play, but we had many opportunities to get back into the game.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.