TORONTO — A pair of early Sporting Kansas City gaffes helped Toronto FC to a 2-1 win Saturday inside the Rogers Centre, its first victory over Sporting KC in eight matches.
By KURTIS LARSON
Special to The Star
After Claudio Bieler cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1 with a little over 10 minutes remaining, Sporting fell short it its bid to make it two come-from-behind victories in a row to start the season.
Helped on by a save off the line in the 89th minute, Toronto’s bunker-like defense held up late for its first MLS win in 16 matches dating back to last season.
“It doesn’t help when you make two mistakes in the first half and put yourself behind the eight ball,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “Credit to them. They came out with a lot of energy and it was good for their crowd.”
The 25,991 in attendance were brought back to their feet shortly after the national anthems ended when Toronto’s Robert Earnshaw intercepted a lazy pass from the normally steady Matt Besler before burying a close-range shot past Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the third minute.
“I’m not going to make excuses,” Besler said of the play. “You play the game and you make mistakes. It’s going to happen. It was just an unfortunate start.”
It was a first half reminiscent of the uncharacteristically poor opening 45 minutes for Sporting a week earlier in Philadelphia, where it fell behind early before storming back to a 3-1 win.
On Saturday, however, Sporting fell two goals behind before the game was 30 minutes old.
Referee Fotis Bazakos pointed to the penalty spot in the 21st minute when Paulo Nagamura hauled down Toronto’s John Bostock inside the area. Earnshaw put Toronto’s ensuing penalty past Nielsen, who dove the opposite way.
“From that point on, they just kind of slowed the game down,” Vermes said. “We weren’t good in the first half. Where we weren’t good was movement off the ball. We didn’t drive the game enough. Second half I thought we were much different.”
Vermes’ decision to replace Bobby Convey with C.J. Sapong played a big part in Sporting finding its footing after the break.
Sapong nearly capitalized on Sporting’s second-half momentum when his header came back off the crossbar from a Graham Zusi corner in the 61st minute.
With Toronto in a defensive shell during the late stages, Sporting’s sustained pressure finally paid off when in the 77th minute, Sapong flicked a long restart on to Bieler, whose first-time half-volley cut the lead in half.
“Our mentality wasn’t strong enough in that first half,” Vermes said. “I liked our fight in the second half … I thought they really didn’t have anything in the second half. We had quite a few chances.”
Bieler thought he’d found the equalizer in the 89th minute after Toronto failed to clear a long throw from Besler. Bieler blistered another half-volley that would have beat Toronto keeper Joe Bendik had Darren O’Dea not been standing at the back post.
A minute after Bieler’s attempt, Zusi put a dipping effort from the top of the circle inches from the top corner.
“You’ve got to remember (both Philadelphia and Toronto) were home openers. The question is: Can we have the same spirit every game we play whether home or away?
“The mentality to push it hard for 90 minutes has been in this team,” Vermes said. “It’s just starting out the year and we’ve got to make sure we do it every roll of the ball.”
Sporting returns to Sporting Park next Saturday for its home opener against the Chicago Fire.