Sporting KC

Playoff berth on hold after Sporting KC plays Houston to scoreless draw

Updated: 2013-10-10T04:46:34Z

By PETE GRATHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Sporting Kansas City’s scoreless draw Wednesday at Houston is all about perspective.

Is the glass half-empty? Sure, Sporting missed a shot to clinch a playoff spot outright.

Or is the glass half-full? Sporting moved within a point of first-place New York in the Eastern Conference. Just as important, it kept Houston four points behind Sporting with two games to play.

“I’ve always said it’s very difficult to play on the road in this league,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said by phone. “This isn’t an easy place to play. … We figured out a way to get a result tonight.”

Sporting, 15-10-7 for 52 points, can still clinch its third straight postseason berth Sunday if either Chicago loses or draws at FC Dallas, or if Philadelphia loses or draws at D.C. United.

And it still has a chance to win the Eastern Conference — and even the Supporter’s Shield — if all goes well.

Still, it would have been nice for Sporting to clinch a playoff spot outright on its rival’s home field.

Yet Sporting was thrilled to escape with a point as goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen came up huge.

Houston outshot Sporting 12-4, including 5-1 on goal, and the Dynamo was on the attack early.

Nielsen made a pair of dazzling saves in the opening six minutes, one on a point-blank shot by Will Bruin in the goalie box.

“They started off very aggressive and very strong,” Nielsen said by phone. “And, well, I just did what I’m getting paid for.”

On one of the saves, Nielsen stayed down after twisting his knee, but he remained in the game and said afterward that he was fine.

Houston was denied just before halftime as well, but it wasn’t Nielsen who came through. A Brad Davis free kick from just outside the penalty area was headed away from the right post by defender Aurélien Collin.

A Dom Dwyer header in 67th minute was Sporting’s first shot on target. Just one minute later, Nielsen stoned Bruin from just outside the goalie box.

Sporting was more dangerous over the last half-hour, but it couldn’t get a shot by Houston goalie Tally Hall.

“We had a couple chances to steal it, but unfortunately, we didn’t get it,” Vermes said. “We knew the game was going to open up because they were going to push because they need points.

“We figured it was going to be that type of game, especially late in the game. Teal (Bunbury) came on and gave us an added boost with his speed and getting behind the other team. All in all, a great effort by the guys.”

A draw on the road was also gratifying because Sporting was without defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi, who are with the U.S. national team. Additionally, Designated Player Claudio Bieler was out with a groin strain and didn’t travel with the team.

And Sporting had played just four days earlier at Columbus where it won 1-0.

“When you look at it that way, it was a pretty good result,” Nielsen said. “We would have been pleased with three points today, but we have to be pleased with one point.

“We didn’t play our best game today, so we should be fine with one point.”

To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to pgrathoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff.

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