In the aftermath of a scoreless draw last week, Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara was quick to own the bulk of the blame. The best two scoring chances of the match belonged to him, he felt, but both headers sailed off target.
He insisted he wouldn’t miss his next chance.
Opara outleaped the New York City FC defense and headed home a throw-in from captain Matt Besler, the lone goal in Sporting KC’s 1-0 victory Saturday.
In its first meeting with expansion club NYC FC, Sporting KC used its second straight shutout to claim its first victory of the season as snow flurries trickled onto the grass at Yankee Stadium.
“That was a great ball from Ike. It solidified the victory,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a phone interview. “Winning on the road 1-0 is not an easy thing to do. I’m proud of the guys from that standpoint. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Sporting KC, 1-1-2, took advantage of the narrow baseball-turned-soccer field inside Yankee Stadium in the form of Besler’s patented throw-ins. With a smaller field to work with, Besler’s weapon took on added firepower. He lined a throw to Opara in the 12th minute for the early score, Opara’s second goal of the season after his missed most of 2014 with a leg injury.
“We knew going into this game, because of the size of the field, set pieces were going to be a big part of the game, especially from our attacking side,” Vermes said. “Ike was tremendous. That ball he scored, he hit the ball perfect. It was a great throw by Bes.”
The two men responsible for the goal — Opara and Besler — spearheaded the shutout, as well.
New York City, 1-1-2, which played without big-splash offseason acquisition David Villa, operated in the Sporting KC half of the field for the majority of the final minutes, but it couldn’t find the equalizer. It thought it had earned a premier opportunity to tie the match midway through the second half, when referee Edvin Jurisevic ruled Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic for a handball in the box, awarding a penalty kick to NYC FC.
Replays showed, however, that Sinovic did not make contact with the ball, and after a deliberation with his sideline official, Jurisevic overturned his initial call.
“That would’ve been a major blunder,” Vermes said. “Thank goodness that didn’t take place.”
Instead, the league’s best road team over the last two seasons notched its first away victory of the 2015 schedule.
It came at a cost, though.
Graham Zusi left the match in the first half with a left hamstring strain. Vermes said late Saturday he didn’t know the severity of the injury.
Sporting KC was already without three starters. Midfielder Roger Espinoza (Honduras) and defender Marcel de Jong (Canada) were with their respective national teams, and forward Krisztian Nemeth didn’t make the trip because of a knee injury.
For the box score, please click here.