The road scoring tribulations could be summarized simply, with a drought that spanned more than 300 minutes. They blemished Sporting Kansas City’s away record over the first half of the season.
Which made this all the more surprising Saturday night: Sporting KC not only broke its dry spell in a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy in Carson, Calif., it received arguably its highlight-reel goal of the season.
From an unlikely source, at that.
Sporting KC defender Ike Opara scored on a bicycle kick in the 35th minute, the centerpiece of the club’s first road victory since April 15 in Portland, Ore.
“I guess I got some tricks up my sleeve,” Opara said in a phone interview after the match. “I sized it up. I wanted to head it initially, but I didn’t think I would get enough power on it. I thought I’d try the bike and see what happens.”
Sporting KC improved to 2-4-4 on the road this season.
A footnote: That Opara goal landed as No. 1 on “SportsCenter’s” Top 10 plays of the night Saturday.
After Sporting KC captain Matt Besler lofted a pass into the penalty area, Opara squeezed through the Galaxy defense, turned his back toward the goal and kicked the ball as he leaped into the air and fell to the ground. The ball lofted over his head and then the head of Galaxy goalkeeper Clement Diop, who had come off his line to challenge the play.
The reaction from Opara’s teammates told the story. Striker Dom Dwyer held his hands on his head in disbelief.
While Opara has been oft-praised this season for his play as a defender, he isn’t known for his goal-scoring prowess. He has 11 goals in eight MLS seasons, including two in 2017.
“That was fantastic,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “It’s funny — he seems to get streaky when he scores. He’s playing well, and it’s not just that goal.”
After being shut out seven times in its first nine road games, Sporting KC matched its season-best output away from Children’s Mercy Park. And it extended its lead atop the Western Conference standings to five points.
Before the bike, Sporting KC got a gift. Midfielder Roger Espinoza unleashed a shot from 25 yards out in the 22nd minute. The ball was destined for the chest of Diop, but when he reached out to punch the ball away, he instead deflected it straight into the net.
Trailing 2-0 after Opara added his goal, LA Galaxy pulled one back in the 77th minute, when Dave Romney cleaned up the aftermath of a corner kick and headed the ball over the line. Sporting KC keeper Tim Melia stopped the initial chance, and he thought he stopped the second one, too, but the assistant referee correctly ruled the ball had surpassed the goal line.
“We managed the (end of) the game very well. It wasn’t easy because they were pushing everything forward,” Vermes said. “But we didn’t lose ourselves. The discipline and the balance was very good.”
The victory didn’t come without its drawbacks. Benny Feilhaber had to depart the match in the second half after a nasty challenge from LA Galaxy defender Nathan Smith, which drew a yellow card. Feilhaber spent the remainder of the match with ice on his left ankle and shin while sitting across the bench. Vermes said the concern was more on Feilhaber’s ankle.
“That was a terrible tackle,” Vermes said. “He turned his ankle. We’ll see how long it’s going to be. It’s going to be a difficult one.”
Sporting Kansas City 2 LA Galaxy 1
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber (Jimmy Medranda, 61st), Ilie Sanchez; Gerso Fernandes, Dom Dwyer, Latif Blessing (Daniel Salloi, 72nd).
LOS ANGELES: Clément Diop; Nathan Smith, Dave Romney, Jelle Van Damme, Ashley Cole, Rafael Garcia (Joao Pedro, 60th), Jaime Villarreal, Gyasi Zardes (Bradford Jamieson, 77th), Romain Alessandrini, Emmanuel Boateng, Jack McBean (Jose Villarreal, 62nd).
Kansas City: Espinoza (Fernandes), 22nd minute; Opara (Besler), 35th.
Los Angeles: Romney (unassisted), 77th.
Shots on goal
Kansas City: Fernandes (unsporting behavior), 73rd.
Los Angeles: Jaime Villarreal (unsporting behavior), 33rd; Smith (unsporting behavior), 59th, Van Damme (unsporting behavior), 81st.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Assistant referee: Michael Kampmeinert
Assistant referee: Adam Garner
Fourth official: David Gantar