Kei Kamara woke up Saturday morning, and the moment his feet touched the floor, it appeared a tough season was about to get even tougher.
He rose out of bed, only to feel a sharp pain in his right ankle — a remnant of the previous day’s shooting drills, no doubt. Of all the days to be hobbled, he thought. Here he was, about to start his third game in a row and on the brink (he thought) of coming out of his scoring slump, and all of it was about to be jeopardized by an injury.
Only, Kamara — who was told by the trainers to sit out Saturday’s home match against Toronto F.C. — would have none of it. Fearing all his hard work would go down the drain, he gutted it out and wound up scoring two goals — including one with his injured foot — as Sporting snapped its three-match MLS winless streak with a 4-2 victory.
“Things don’t always go your way,” said Kamara, who led the team in goals last season with 10 but hadn’t scored in MLS play since April 23 of this year. “But when you get your chance, I mean, that’s why there was no way I was going to sit out. My chance is now. I’ve been playing well in training and in the games, and if I sit out and someone else comes in and plays well, I’m gonna have to sit out the next game.”
Kamara’s angst made sense. Several of his teammates have cut into his playing time — after starting 27 of 30 games last year, he’s only started 12 of 20 games this year — and he’s only recently seemed to reclaim his starting spot.
So yes, no one was happier with the victory than Kamara, who thrilled the announced crowd of 16,382 at Livestrong Sporting Park by scoring a doozy of a goal off a corner kick in the 28th minute. After a Toronto defender weakly mishit a clearance, Kamara was right there to capitalize as he scissor-kicked the ball with his right foot from inside the box to give Sporting a 1-0 lead.
“What do they say in the U.S., the third time’s the charm?” Kamara said with a smile. “I tried one in the Open Cup, I tried one in Houston. And number three went in.”
The goal also snapped Sporting’s 297-minute streak of not leading in a MLS game. But for all the trouble Sporting has had scoring recently — its last three MLS games finished in 1-1 draws — Kamara made his next goal, which came in the 34th minute and was his fifth of the season, look easy.
The sequence began when forward C.J. Sapong sent a short pass to midfielder Roger Espinosa, who maneuvered around a defender to the left of the goal and sent a picture-perfect cross to Kamara, who leaped high in the air to head the ball past Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei and give Sporting a 2-0 lead.
The goals proved to be a relief for Sporting, which gave up a couple of good scoring opportunities early and easily could have been on the wrong side of a 2-0 ledger. But Sporting two-goal lead grew to three in the 37th minute when its designated players hooked up for the kind of goal that manager Peter Vermes must have been dreaming of when he signed both over the past year.
Jéferson, who was just acquired last weekend at the beginning of the summer transfer window, sent a terrific through ball to forward Omar Bravo, who raced behind the defense, kicked the ball away from the oncoming Frei, and chased it down for a right-footed follow into a wide-open net to make the score 3-0.
Toronto 3-11-9, made the score 3-1 with a header by midfielder Danny Koevermans in the 50th minute, but whatever comeback hopes it had came to crashing halt in the 64th minute when Bravo scored his second goal of the game after a nice cross from defender Chance Myers.
Toronto added a late goal by midfielder Ryan Johnson, but the deficit proved to be too much to overcome as Sporting improved to 6-6-8, kicked off a nine-game homestand with a bang and ultimate got a big-time lift from a big-time scorer who was elated but limping afterward.
“I was just happy it went my way,” a relieved Kamara said with a smile.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY NOTEBOOK
Newly acquired defender Daneil Cyrus made his Sporting Kansas City and Major League Soccer debut on Saturday, as he came in for Aurélien Collin in the 62nd minute.
“He did a decent job,” said manager Peter Vermes. “If he’s going to learn something, its better he learns in a game like this when we’re up by four goals.
Sporting acquired Cyrus, 20, on loan from FC Santa Rosa for the rest of the season. He misplayed a ball that led to a goal, but all-in-all he feels his unexpected debut when OK.
“I recovered for it,” said Cyrus, who called his debut a good experience. “It’s OK.”
Collin, who has emerged as the centerpiece of a much improved back four, was listed as questionable on the pregame injury report with a left quadriceps contusion.
“Collin took a knee into his lower back and glute, and when he hit that last ball he aggravated,” Vermes said. “He actually made the right decision coming out because there’s no sense in pulling it.”
•Whatever doubts there were about Jéferson’s fitness seemed to be ease by this game, as Sporting KC’s new designated player — who Vermes said would likely play 65-70 minutes — played a full 90 minutes. He even showed hustle in the 84th minute when, with his team ahead by two, he could be spotted chasing down Toronto players up the field.
“He probably played about 20 to 25 minutes too long,” Vermes said. “We were going to make a substitution with him, but with the injury Collin we needed him. At times, he was very good for us. The way he found the final pass, relieving pressure, finding players, those things were very good for us.”
Jéferson said he didn’t expect to go the distance, but he knew at a certain point his team needed him to tough it out
“It comes down to mental toughness, you know,” Jéferson said through a translator. “You can’t show other teams fatigue, because if you do they’ll eat you alive.”
•Saturday’s game marked the third time in franchise history and first time since 1996 that two players had two or more goals in the same game.