Claudio Bieler joined Sporting Kansas City as a designated player last season, and he promptly led the club in scoring. Not a bad introduction to Major League Soccer.
The encore hasn’t gone quite so well. Bieler lost his starting job to Dom Dwyer only a few weeks into the 2014 season, and the subsequent playing time has been scarce.
He made the most of a rare opportunity Tuesday.
Bieler scored a pair of goals in Sporting Kansas City’s 3-0 victory against visiting Real Esteli in a CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 match at Sporting Park. Sal Zizzo added a third goal in the 78th minute for good measure, and goalkeeper Eric Kronberg posted a shutout in his first appearance since July 6.
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“I want to make the coach have a hard time keeping me out of the lineup,” Bieler said through a translator. “I’m a professional. I’ve always approached the game like that. I want to train every day and every week as hard as I can.”
His work Tuesday placed Sporting KC in command of its CCL group with seven points in three matches. Sporting KC can advance from the group if it wins or ties a match against Deportivo Saprissa on Oct. 23. It can also win the group with a one-goal defeat.
Bieler scored for the second consecutive appearance after he broke a four-month scoring drought against Chivas USA on Sept. 12 — though the opportunities haven’t exactly been plentiful. He made just his third start since May 18 across all competitions.
“He’s been very professional about taking his opportunities as they come,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “He’s a total team guy, and I’m happy he got two goals tonight. He’s actually in really great form, playing very well any time he’s come on. He was an important part of the team in last year’s success, and we’re going to need him again (at) some point this year, as well.”
After Seth Sinovic set up Bieler’s first goal, Bieler added a second score on a penalty kick in the 70th minute.
That was the largest consequence in a match filled with fouls — and subsequent cards. Five Sporting KC players were issued yellow cards.
Graham Zusi received his second during CCL play, and he will miss Sporting KC’s final Group 2 match against Deportivo Saprissa.
After the match, Vermes voiced his displeasure with the play that led to Zusi’s card.
“It absolutely frustrates me to no end to think that he gets a yellow card (on that play),” Vermes said. “He’s gotten two now — (one) there in Nicaragua and (one) here — for actions that are absolutely ridiculous. ... It’s shameful. It’s not right, and that’s the kind of stuff that has to change.”
That put the only blemish on an otherwise unimpaired performance from Sporting KC.
Kronberg faced only three shots. He had not played since breaking a bone in his left hand during practice.
“It was definitely great to be out there with the team again,” Kronberg said. “I was ready to get back with the team and contribute again. I felt solid all night. For the most part, it was a really good night.”
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