Hello again, first place.
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
And goodbye to a pair of scoring droughts.
Sporting Kansas City strikers Claudio Bieler and C.J. Sapong ended extended dry spells Saturday and moved the team back alone atop the Eastern Conference standings. For one day, at least.
A shorthanded Sporting KC club dismantled Columbus 3-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,211 at Sporting Park.
The win moved Sporting KC three points ahead of Montreal and New York in the Eastern Conference, though both teams could draw even with wins today.
“We just outworked them during the course of the game,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said matter-of-factly. “And the other thing is I think we out-soccered them.”
OK, that may not be a word, but it applied Saturday.
Bieler needed only 7 minutes to do what he had failed to accomplish since July 13 — net a goal. In the second half, Sapong scored for the first time since May 5.
In turn, Sporting KC, 13-9-6, did what it hasn’t done in seven weeks — win back-to-back games in Major League Soccer play.
Saad sandwiched a goal between the two in the 41st minute.
The three forwards have a knack for timing.
Sporting KC played without defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi, who are away on U.S. men’s national-team duty, and without midfielder Peterson Joseph and defender Mechack Jerome, who are with Haiti’s national team. Add to that, Sporting KC agreed to transfer Kei Kamara on Monday to Middlesbrough FC of the Football Championship League.
“We are motivated any time we have an opportunity to step onto the field, but obviously when you have a lot of guys out, you feel that a little bit more,” Sapong said. “Everybody can provide an impact. That’s how we approach practice, and that’s how we approach games.”
Sapong finished the scoring. Bieler started it.
Bieler was the benefactor of a nifty move from Benny Feilhaber, who drew a penalty kick when the Crew’s Will Trapp tripped him in the goalie box. Bieler stepped to the dot and fired the penalty kick low and hard past Columbus goalkeeper Matt Lampson.
Saad took his turn next. Vermes had pointed to Saad’s emergence as evidence his club would survive without Kamara, Sporting KC’s leading goal scorer each of the last three seasons.
Saad continued his progress Saturday. After collecting a pass from Bieler, he beat his man and buried a shot in the upper right corner from 7 yards away. Lampson stood no chance to slow what turned into Saad’s fourth MLS goal of the season in the 41st minute. In all competitions, Saad has four goals and two assists in his last eight starts.
“I’m very confident right now, and the team is very confident,” Saad said. “We’re playing some good soccer. With that said, we know we’re going to miss Kei and we’re going to have some absences from certain key guys, but we’re ready to step up. We showed that today.”
Perhaps nobody more than Sapong, who started for just the second time since June.
He added the final goal in the 55th minute. Oriol Rosell lofted a pass into the box, and Sapong beat Crew defender Tyson Wahl in the air for a header over the top of Lampson, who left his spot on the line.
A year after scoring nine goals, Sapong got only his second goal of the season.
Goalie Jimmy Nielsen made one save in posting the shutout.