Sporting Kansas City couldn’t have scripted a better start Sunday against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
Manager Peter Vermes’ club found two goals in the opening eight minutes, which proved to be enough in a 2-1 win that moved Sporting KC into a tie for first in the Eastern Conference pending the results of Montreal’s match with Chivas USA later Sunday evening.
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“This is a huge win,” Besler said. “Any time you can win on the road, it’s a big win and Chicago is a tough place to play. We have to give credit to our fans, because they have traveled well the last couple years with 500 people or maybe more and we’ve gotten some good results. A lot of that is because of them and the atmosphere they create.”
Sporting KC is only 4-15-2 all-time against the Fire in Chicago, but since 2008 the club is 3-2-1 at Toyota Park.
Making his first start since May 19, midfielder Benny Feilhaber staked Sporting KC, 8-5-6, to a lead in the sixth minute off a long throw-in by Matt Besler.
Besler launched the ball into the middle of the Fire penalty box, where forward Kei Kamara got a touch that sent it toward the top of the box.
Feilhaber rushed in to collect the free ball and pinged a shot off the inside of the left post and past Chicago goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, who started his second straight game with Sean Johnson prepping for the Gold Cup with the U.S. men’s national team.
“A goal can do wonders for someone’s confidence,” Zusi said. “I think (Feilhaber) will be even more dangerous moving on now.”
Two minutes later, Feilhaber, Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic harassed defender Jalil Anibaba into a turnover deep in Fire territory.
The ball eventually came back to Zusi at the left edge of the Fire penalty box.
Unpressured by Chicago’s defense, Zusi lofted a cross toward the right post that sailed over Kamara’s head, but it also sailed over Tornaghi’s outstretched arm and into the side-netting for a 2-0 lead.
“It was a cross,” Zusi admitted, “but we’ll take it. I was happy that it went in, because a goal’s a goal. I was a little surprised it went in, but happy nonetheless.”
Still, he Fire, 6-8-3, weren’t exactly doused.
Forward Chris Rolfe had two chances eight minutes apart — a rip from 25 yards away in the 10th minute goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen punched over the crossbar and a one-on-one chance in the 18th minutes Rolfe sent wide of the far post with Nielsen rushing out to meet him.
Eventually, Chicago broke through in the 38th minute when Mike Magee timed his run perfectly to collect a pass from Jeff Larentowicz before sliding a ball inside the left post for his league-high 11th gals — including five in six games since joining Chicago.
The second half didn’t feature as much fluidity or as many chances — perhaps a product of both teams having played Wednesday combined with muggy conditions and a lot more whistles.
Sporting KC had a golden opportunity to pad its lead in the 59th minute, but reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry blocked shots by Kamara and midfielder Oriol Rosell in rapid succession to keep it a one-goal game.
Sporting KC went 2-0-1 during a stretch of three games in nine days, claiming seven of a possible nine points and beating two Eastern Conference foes — Columbus and Chicago — who were in hot pursuit in the standings.
“It’s definitely been a grind for us, but we have to keep getting better for ourselves and not being worried about what everybody else is doing,” Vermes said. “We’re slowing doing that, but we’ve got to keep going.”