Heading into a three-week break from MLS action as World Cup qualifying begins across the globe, Sporting Kansas City saw just about everything go right in a 2-1 win Sunday against the San Jose Earthquakes at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Coach Peter Vermes’ club snapped a four-game winless streak, scratching the win column for the first time since April 18 in Vancouver, and picked up its first May victory since beating Real Salt Lake in 2009, a span of 13 games.
It didn’t matter that San Jose played without top scorers Chris Wondolowski, who is with the U.S. men’s national team, and Steven Lenhart, who was suspended for accumulation of yellow cards.
It didn’t matter that the Quakes cut into a two-goal halftime deficit.
Sporting KC, 8-3-1, played perhaps its finest half of the season to the delight of 19,974 fans, and that was reflected by a joyous postgame locker room.
“Everybody knew where we’re at and that the past four games haven’t gone well,” forward Kei Kamara said. “We came into the game with a good focus.”
Kamara was particularly locked in early.
He sent a header over the bar off a Graham Zusi corner kick in the third minute and back-heeled a ball to defender Chance Myers for another dangerous cross a minute later.
Sporting KC broke through in the fifth minute off a perfectly struck cross by Kamara, which C.J. Sapong put away with a jab of his left foot for a 1-0 lead.
Although, technically, it wasn’t Sapong’s bright red boot that netted the goal. He borrowed cleats from Kamara before the game.
“I must have packed my cleats in the wrong bag or something, because I didn’t have them today,” Sapong said. “Literally like five minutes before we went out, I realized it and he’s the closest size to me. I had to make it work.”
Kamara, of course, took his share of credit for the goal.
“That was a great all-around play, but he wouldn’t have scored that goal if he didn’t have my shoes on,” Kamara said. “I saw him running from the back and all I was trying to do was put the ball in in a good way. The ball came off my foot really well, and he threw himself in there because he really wanted that goal.”
Sporting KC, which improved to 9-0-0 all time when Sapong scores, took a two-goal lead into halftime for the second straight week when Kamara netted his team-leading fifth goal of the season in the 39th minute.
Myers played a perfectly weighted pass to the left sideline for defender Michael Harrington, initiating the goal-scoring chance.
Harrington, who came on in the 23rd minute when starting left back Seth Sinovic cut his hand, took one touch back to get the ball on his right foot and swung a cross into the box. That’s where Kamara slipped inside marking defender Ramiro Corrales and drove a header hard into the ground and past San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch, who later appeared to get into an altercation with a ball boy out of frustration in the closing minutes.
“I didn’t see the runners coming in on my left foot, so that’s why I decided to chop it back to get it on my right,” Harrington said. “It gave those guys a little extra time to try and get in the box, and I have a better cross with my right foot anyway. Kei made a great run and finished it off well.”
The Quakes, 8-3-3, pulled back a goal in the 72nd minute when Simon Dawkins chipped in a 20-yard shot after being played open by Corrales just outside the Sporting KC penalty box.
The best chance for an equalizer came 6 minutes later, but Myers headed a dangerous cross over the Sporting KC goal before it reached second-half sub Cesar Diaz Pizarro all alone in front of goalie Jimmy Nielsen.
“I just filled into the middle and was in the right place,” Myers said. “We’re going to have to sustain a little bit of pressure throughout the 90 minutes.”
With the three points, Sporting KC leads the MLS with an average of 2.08 points per game.