Set piece perseverance pays off for Zusi and SKC

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When their first eight corner kick opportunities went for naught, Sporting Kansas City kept trying to put the ball on the back post.

When the ninth resulted in a goal that was called back, they didn’t fall apart as past editions of the team might have.

That set piece perseverance paid off with three more points.

OPTA Chalkboard: Sporting find plenty of restart chances

“I think the corner kicks signal that we were trying to go at them and put the pressure on them,” manager Peter Vermes said Saturday night, after Aurelien Collin headed in Graham Zusi’s 63rd minute corner to give Sporting a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake and extend KC’s club-record start to a perfect 6-0-0.

And while it took a time for that pressure to return dividends, Vermes said that wasn’t his team’s fault.

GOAL: Collin loses man, buries corner

“It’s never an easy thing to score on a corner kick,” he said. “Here’s the reason: You’re not only fighting a crowd. There’s a guy usually holding on to you.  Maybe we’re the only ones who hold in games, but at the end of the day it’s not an easy thing.”

Vermes was making reference to Sporting’s ninth corner opportunity, a back-and-forth affair which ended with C.J. Sapong appearing to score on a header – only to see the goal waved off when he was whistled for a foul on Jamison Olave.

And before that, Sporting’s back post tries often sailed long and out of danger – but not because the kicks were off-target, Zusi said.

“We planned on hitting the far post every time in the first half,” he said, “because we saw some of their tendencies to crowd the front post. We changed it up in the second half.”

Collin was still close to the back post when he connected, but inside the frame rather than outside.

“I was in the right spot, right moment,” he said. “Zusi did an amazing job.”

So did Collin, ’keeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said – at both ends of the pitch.

“He’s doing a fantastic job,” Nielsen said. “His energy. He’s fearless. He’s one of those defenders who you love to have in front of you. He’s putting his head in front of everything. “

Zusi now has a league-best six assists this season, including set piece setups on both of Collin’s goals, but continued to play down that stat after Saturday night’s game.

“There’s four or five guys I can get it to on set pieces,” he said. “Like I always say, I just try to put it in a dangerous spot, and those guys do the rest.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at steve@artkc365.com.

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