On the day U.S. Soccer celebrated its 100th birthday, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United didn’t treat fans to the most artfully rendered match of the last century Friday night at Sporting Park.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Still, the home crowd of 18,988 – the club’s 19th consecutive sellout – left happy after Designated Player Claudio Bieler’s 89th-minute delivered a 1-0 victory for Sporting KC.
“It was a sloppy game, but at the end of the day we were able to get the result, and we’re showing a lot of character the last couple games,” forward C.J. Sapong said. “It’s good to win a game like that sometimes.”
The dramatic game-winner started with a turnover by D.C.’s defense deep in its own territory.
Forward Soony Saad, who entered for midfielder Benny Feilhaber in the 83rd minute, stole a lazy back pass by Marcos Sanchez and then proceeded to nutmeg Marcelo Saragosa on the way to the end line.
Once there, Saad slotted a ball back to the middle, where an on-rushing Claudio Bieler drove a left-footed finish into the right side netting.
“We train that a lot in practice, cutting the ball back to the top of the box, so I stopped and the defenders kept going,” Bieler said. “I was waiting for the ball and thankfully Soony put there and I was able to finish.”
It was the fourth goal in six games for Bieler, an Argentinian-born striker acquired from LDU Quito in Ecuador’s first division during the offseason.
“I’ve seen this finish here a million times in practice – not on me, on the other goalkeeper,” Sporting KC captain and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen joked. “But it’s very important to have a solid goal scorer, a guy who when he gets a chance sticks it in.”
Before that, the third scoreless draw in the last four games seemed imminent for Sporting KC, 3-1-2, which recorded its fourth consecutive shutout in a game that took on a sloppy tone from the opening whistle.
Referee Armando Villareal issued five yellow cards in a turnover-filled, possession-devoid battle that featured on three shots on goal – two by Sporting KC and one for the United, 1-3-1, which has yet to score in three road games this season.
The game’s first official shot came in the 18th minute when Matt Besler lobbed a throw-in into the box that Bieler headed a few feet wide of the right post.
It was one of the few-and-far-between scoring chances for either side.
“(D.C.) had basically the back four with two in front and they really matched those guys up with our two attacking midfielders,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “I thought they did a good job tactically in regards to keeping it very compact and clogging the middle. It really broke the rhythm of the game.”
During the 37th minute, Sapong dribbled into the box off a feed from Bieler, but the third-year forward didn’t get much behind a shot that went straight at D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid anyway.
Bieler and Feilhaber, a midfielder who arrived via trade with New England, worked a give-and-go in the United box during the 64th minute, but Feilhaber’s blast sailed wide right and the game remained scoreless.
Six minutes later, midfielder Graham Zusi had a go from distance, uncorking a crackling shot from 25 yards out off a turnover, but there were precious few legitimate scoring chances during the second half – and really throughout the match.
For D.C., perhaps the attacking highlight was a bicycle try by Carlos Ruiz 10 minutes after he entered the game in the 72nd minute, but it wasn’t good enough to get by Nielsen and Ruiz was offside anyway.
With the shutout, Sporting KC extended its shutout streak to 429 minutes – the second-longest stretch in club history.
During the 2000 MLS Cup championship season, Sporting KC didn’t permit a goal for 681 minutes from April 19 through May 27.
“I’m happy that the team is doing well,” Bieler said. “For me, scoring goals is part of the winning mentality of the team and, as long as the team performs well, I’m going to be happy with that.”