Sporting Kansas City’s match with D.C. United on Friday at Sporting Park wasn’t chock-full of the scoring chances it usually generates at home. There wasn’t much flow to speak of.
It just wasn’t all that pretty.
But, the 1-0 victory was precisely what Sporting KC needed.
“There’s no doubt it maybe wasn’t one of our best performances of the year,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes conceded. “But at the end of the day we found a way to win that game, get three points, and put pressure on the other teams. And we solidify first or second (in the Eastern Conference), which is huge for us.”
Sporting KC, 16-10-7, now sits two points clear of the New York Red Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with one match left in the regular season. It also leads New York and the Portland Timbers by two points for the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team with the top point total in the regular season.
D.C. United fell to 3-23-7, and needs a victory in its final match to avoid winning the fewest games in an MLS season.
Dom Dwyer took advantage of Sporting KC’s best chance of the evening and scored the only goal of the match in the 7th minute.
Sporting KC midfielder Peterson Joseph pressed D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen, who hurriedly tried to play the ball back to his goalkeeper.
“I knew my job was then to close the keeper,” Dwyer said. “I thought I’d take a chance. (Kitchen) tried to play the ball back and saw me coming halfway through his pass and left a little bit on it and I just took it around and finished it off.”
D.C. United’s Jared Jeffrey had a one-on-one chance and tried put the ball between Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen’s legs, but Nielsen was up to the challenge.
“Today was a one-against-one, and thank God I closed my legs,” Nielsen said. “In that situation, I want him (as close) to me as possible, so I can shut down the angles. That’s why I was waiting and waiting and waiting for him. I don’t want to give the striker any advice, but there’s a different way I want to do it if I was a striker.”
Nielsen now has 13 shutouts this season, which leads MLS.
“Two games in a row now. The same thing happened when we played in Houston. He was stellar in that game,” Vermes said. “That’s the kind of save you want your goalkeeper to make for you to keep you in the game.”
Defense has become Sporting KC’s calling card, and the club is back to its stifling ways. Sporting KC hasn’t given up a goal in three consecutive matches in the most important stretch of the season.
The club will need more of the same from here on out. It plays Olimpia at home Wednesday in the final game of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. A win there would put Sporting KC through to the knockout round of the tournament.
Then the club travels to Philadelphia on Saturday for the regular-season finale. Both home-field advantage and the Supporters’ Shield won’t come to fruition without a win there.
“We understand what time of year it is and I think we’re an experienced team now,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said. “We know what approach gets the job done this time of year, and that’s being tough to play against and taking our chances. The confidence and the belief these guys have, in the last three or four games we’ve shown we’re good.”
Sporting KC has played better at home this season and walked away with nothing to show for it. Ugly wins trump pretty losses, and Vermes will take as many of the former as he can get.
“We weren’t on tonight like we normally are,” Vermes said. “But given the fact that we’ve played so many games here and we’ve had such great performances and we’ve came up short quite a few times, it’s nice to see us have the opportunity to walk away where we didn’t perform as well and get three points.”