Sporting Kansas City took a cue from March Madness and won its home opener by out-rebounding the opposition.
Graham Zusi, Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong took advantage of a shorthanded New England Revolution and won 3-0 on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 19,777 at Livestrong Park.
New England, now 0-2, played a man down for nearly the entire game after defender Stephen McCarthy, the last man back on defense, was given a red card in the 14th minute for holding Sporting forward C.J. Sapong by the shoulders and denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
That changed everything.
Zusi and Kamara scored within an 11-minute span in the first half, as Sporting began a season 2-0 for the third time in franchise history. Both goals were on put-backs.
Zusi struck first in the 28th minute with a goal that was ruled unassisted, but he got plenty of help. Bobby Convey played a cross from the left side to an unmarked Kamara, who fed Zusi in front of the goal. Zusi, with New England defender Shalrie Joseph draping him, got off one shot that was blocked, but lying on his back, poked the rebound past goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Kamara also took a pass from Convey, and after his point-blank shot was saved by Reis, he put away the rebound for his sixth goal in 11 career games against New England.
“We work on that in training every Friday,” Kamara said of rebounding missed shots. “When you work on it every week, and it comes down to game time, you just have to be aware. I’m sure no one was thinking about the way it happen, but that’s just what we do on Fridays, it’s all about taking shots and following through.”
Sapong added the third goal in the second half and could have had at least two others had it not been for saves by a harried Reis, who faced 27 shots by a Sporting attack that owned possession, thanks to having the extra man on the field.
McCarthy’s red card was the eighth one issued in the last 10 matches between Kansas City and New England and the sixth ejection of a New England player.
“I couldn’t have anticipated what unfolded in the first 14 minutes,” said first-year Revolution coach Jay Heaps. “It’s tough to play against more than just another team.”
Heaps, a longtime player for the Revolution, struggled to come up with an explanation for the rash of red cards in the New England-Kansas City rivalry.
“It’s not good for the league, I’ll tell you that much for sure,” he said. “You want to make it as competitive as you can. I don’t know all the red cards … I remember a few, because I think I was involved in a few. But it’s disappointing because you come in and want to have a competitive game …”
On the play in question, Revolution defender A.J. Soares headed a ball out of danger, and McCarthy tried keeping the 6-foot-2 Sapong from making a turn toward the penalty area.
“They both seemed to be grappling with each other,” said Reis. “Neither went down. It was a referee’s decision.”
Zusi and defender Chance Myers picked up two yellow cards in the game, but that didn’t cut into Sporting’s manpower advantage.
“It would be interesting to look at the tape and see the validity of those red cards,” Reis, a nine-year veteran with the Revolution, said of the history between the two Eastern Conference rivals. “Sometimes it’s a trend that happens. I don’t think the game was overly dirty, I don’t think our matchups have been overly dirty. It’s an anomaly and something that happens.”
Sporting manager Peter Vermes attributed the red cards to Sporting’s offensive aggression.
“When you’re committed to going forward like we are, it’s going to be dangerous at times for other teams,” said Vermes, whose team ranked second in MLS last year with 50 goals. “They’re going to have to deal with that.
“When C.J. is trying to run past you, or Kai is trying to run past you, the idea of matching them body-to-body, speed-for-speed, or you’re going to have to do other things to slow them down. That’s what happens … they get in a lot of dangerous situations. When you have a commitment to going forward, yo make the defenders have to make decisions.
“It changes the game pretty quickly.”