The largest crowd in Sporting Park regular-season history was greeted Saturday with news that the club had signed its two biggest stars — defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi — to long-term contract extensions.
An encouraging start to the afternoon. And the omen to a satisfying conclusion.
Sporting Kansas City handed the LA Galaxy its first loss in two months Saturday — a 2-1 defeat in a nationally televised game in front of 21,493 fans at Sporting Park.
Sporting KC, 10-5-5, extended its unbeaten streak to six matches and stretched its lead atop the Eastern Conference to four points over second-place D.C. United, while halting the Galaxy’s unbeaten streak at eight.
“LA is by far the best team we’ve faced this year,” coach Peter Vermes said. “It played out for a very entertaining game, for the fans and for television. Both teams went back-and-forth constantly, which I think is great for the league, as well.”
Benny Feilhaber and Lawrence Olum staked Sporting KC to a two-goal lead before LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane got one back in the 79th minute. The Galaxy failed to find the equalizer.
Only four days after blasting home the game-winner in Columbus, Feilhaber exercised a bit more touch in opening the scoring Saturday. He lofted a 20-yard free kick into the upper left corner of the net — a ball so perfectly placed that he shrugged his shoulders and smiled after it sprayed the net.
Feilhaber, Zusi and Dom Dwyer all lined up behind the ball as if they were going to take the free kick before Feilhaber stepped forward.
“I was pretty much going for that spot from the get-go,” Feilhaber said. “I was trying to convince those guys to let me take it from that spot. We all have our ranges. Mine is definitely inside 25 (yards). So, for the most part, I’m usually going to win that battle.”
The Galaxy allowed Sporting KC to dictate the match in the first half but utilized an effective counterattack after halftime in an attempt to tie the score. It resulted in a pair of quality chances, but it proved to be a wasted effort.
Instead, Olum pushed the margin to 2-0 in the 61st minute. Olum used his head to nick a rebound chance past sprawling goalkeeper Jaime Penedo after Jacob Peterson’s initial header deflected off Penedo’s hand and then the crossbar.
After failing to capitalize on his early chances, Keane scored in the 79th minute. The Galaxy was unable to produce a quality chance over the remainder of the match.
“LA is always going to be a tough game. They’re a team that matches up really well against us with the way they play on the counterattack,” Feilhaber said. “That was one of the points of emphasis — to not allow them to get on break in transition. We did a good job of that.”
A 1-0 defeat against D.C. United on May 31 was the last time Sporting KC lost an MLS match. It has reeled off six straight matches without a defeat, a streak that includes five victories and one tie.
Sporting KC will play host to Manchester City of the English Premier League at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Sporting Park before it returns to league action Saturday when it travels to play Toronto FC. Sporting KC and Toronto played to a 2-2 draw in their only meeting this season.