It’s a win easily ascribed to karma as Sporting Kansas City’s debut at Children’s Mercy Park went considerably better than its first game at Livestrong Park.
Dom Dwyer notched his sixth career brace as Sporting KC opened the sixth season in its Kansas City, Kan., palace with a 2-1 win Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
It started with a raucous pregame ceremony that included a performance by The Architects and rapper Tech N9ne leading the “I Believe” chant from The Cauldron before kickoff.
“There was a nice buzz tonight,” said Dwyer, who now has 38 career MLS goals. “I think the crowd were right behind us and it was goosebumps again coming out there. It’s been a while, so it was nice to get back out there.”
Tech N9ne, who is from Kansas City, provided the voiceover for Sporting KC’s preseason ad campaign and for the pregame opening-day hype video.
It didn’t take much hype to ignite the crowd of 20,178, the club’s 71st consecutive MLS sellout and largest opening-game crowd in stadium history.
But if Tech N9ne lit the fuse, Dwyer made sure the powder keg exploded in the fifth minute off a dreadful turnover by Vancouver defensive midfielder Deybi Flores.
Flories scuffed a back pass to his defense, which Dwyer intercepted before delivering a 28-yard rocket into the upper left corner that rendered Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted helpless. It’s the longest goal of Dwyer’s career.
“Super goal, wasn’t it?” Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson said. “It was a fantastic strike by him. Goals change games. Unfortunately for us, we were on the wrong end today. It’s a great finish by him, but it’s a mistake by us.”
Sporting KC, 2-0-0, doubled its lead in the 41st minute on another goal by Dwyer, though he had the easy part.
Midfielder Graham Zusi started the decisive sequence by deftly switching the point of attack with a clever cross to an unmarked Chance Myers, who was roaring up the right flank.
Myers served the ball back across the box with a low, one-time volley into the path of Dwyer, who buried a rocket under Ousted into the net.
“You could read the whole play and so could Vancouver, but it was just too fast,” Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza said.
The Whitecaps’ comeback hopes were dealt a blow in first-half stoppage time when a reckless challenge against Zusi from behind earned central defender Jordan Smith an early shower.
It was the second straight week Sporting KC, which dominated possession 65-35 in the first half with both teams at full strength and 71-30 in the second half, played the entire second half with a man advantage.
“Our commitment was tremendous,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “I thought we were patient as well, but Dom scores a cracker on the first one, a world-class goal, and the build up for the second one was just tremendous with the timing all the way around.”
Vancouver — which was only outshot 13-9, including 5-4 in shots on goal despite playing half the game with 10 men — pulled back a goal when Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia clattered into forward Octavio Rivera after coming off his line too aggressively.
“I did touch the ball,” Melia said. “I didn’t get a huge chunk of it, but it hit off the top of my left hand. My momentum carried through the player, but I’ll have to see the replay to know if it was good decision or not.”
Whitecaps captain Pedro Morales halved Sporting KC’s lead with a penalty kick in the 70th minute and coach Carl Robinson’s squad controlled the game for a few minutes before Peter Vermes went to his bench to polish off the victory.
U.S. men’s national team midfielder Brad Davis, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Houston Dynamo, made his club debut in the 77th minute.
Melia finished with three saves, including a remarkable 20th-minute stonewall of Kekuta Manneh on a breakaway that preserved the early lead at the time.
“He seemed like he had a lot of space,” Melia said. “I didn’t look over at the flag. You can’t do that. It’s just a wasted second by turning your head. I just wanted to see where his first touch was going to go. He took a little bit of a longer touch, which allowed me to gobble up some ground, try to get in front of him and make myself as big as I can.”
The club’s first game, when it was still called Livestrong Park in June 2011, was a dreary 0-0 draw that saw starting goalkeeper and beloved team icon Jimmy Nielsen sent off.
It was best remembered for a cow-suited fan entering the field during a stoppage in play and an appearance by the Livestrong Foundation’s disgraced namesake Lance Armstrong.
Not even a steady second-half mist could dampen spirits during the opener under the moniker Children’s Mercy Park. The pregame festivities featured recognition for Victory Project honoree Josh Barber, 19, a Liberty graduate who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in July.
Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer