Facing the worst team in Major League Soccer, a Toronto FC squad that came into play with three points in its first 10 games and fired its coach last week, Sporting Kansas City cruised to a 2-0 victory Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park.
The first half was about as lopsided as a professional soccer game gets. Sporting KC built a two-goal lead, had possession 68 percent of the time and connected on 80 percent of its passes.
Part of it had to do with Toronto, 1-10-0, adjusting to a new formation, switching from a 4-3-3 under Aron Winter to a 4-4-2 under Paul Mariner, who moved from director of player development to coach.
“We started off the game really well,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “We pressed them and didn’t give them much time on the ball. We had great field position most of the time we won the ball, and we created a heck of a lot of chances in the first half.”
In other words, a bigger part of it was simply Sporting KC, 9-3-1, being the better team — to the delight of the season-best 20,488 in attendance.
“The main thing we wanted to do was match the energy early,” left back Seth Sinovic said. “They had something to prove, not only for themselves as a team but for a new coach. We wanted to match or provide more energy. I thought we did that and didn’t let them get comfortable.”
Sinovic broke out on a counterattack in the third minute and found forward Teal Bunbury, who made a diagonal run to the left flank then schooled two Toronto defenders before whipping a dangerous cross low into the box. Sinovic had cut back inside to the near post, but he couldn’t get a clean strike on the ball and Toronto’s Doneil Henry cleaned up front of goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
Midfielder Julio Cesar had a dangerous sliding opportunity early and nearly scored again in the 11th minute off a flicked-on throw-in by Jacob Peterson, who made his first start with Sporting KC. Cesar’s volley for the far post sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
Peterson’s floating cross a minute later had Toronto’s defense beat again, but Bunbury and forward C.J. Sapong collided at the back post as neither managed to get the ball on net.
Sporting KC broke through in the 18th minute off another cross from Peterson, whose line-drive into the box skipped past Henry and made it to Sapong dead center in front of Toronto’s goal for an easy one-time putaway.
Right back Chance Myers, who slipped the ball wide to Peterson, also received an assist, his fourth of the season.
Ryan Johnson created Toronto’s first legitimate chance in the 29th minute, but no teammates could get on the end of the cross and Peterson booted it to safety at the far post.
During the 30th minute, Eric Avila got free in the box and beat Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with a low shot to Nielsen’s right. But the ball ricocheted across the face of the goal, hitting both posts before bouncing back into the field, where Aurelien Collin swiped the ball away from danger – and then made the sign of the cross on his chest and kissed his knuckles.
“The goalposts are my best friend, because thanks to them (Toronto) didn’t score,” Collin said. “After the action, I had to thank God, because that’s something that almost never happens.”
Sporting KC went up 2-0 in the 35th minute when Graham Zusi sent a corner kick deep for Cesar, who buried a shot into the upper right corner.
“I really hope that gets (MLS) goal of the week,” Cesar said.
Nielsen saved a header from Toronto’s leading scorer, Danny Koevermans, in the 37th minute to protect the lead going into halftime.
He saved his best stop for the 70th minute, turning away Koevermans again with a left-footed kick save to preserve the season’s sixth shutout.