Despite conceding another sloppy goal in Toronto, Sporting KC hold on with help from hero C.J. Sapong
The last time Sporting Kansas City conceded a shockingly soft away goal to Toronto FC, they came up on the short end of a 2-1 decision against the usually-woeful Reds back on March 9.
They gave away another cheap one on Saturday at BMO Field – while playing without four regular starters, two of whom didn't even make the trip – and still came away with a share of the Eastern Conference lead, thanks to a headed brace from C.J. Sapong.
“Those were three huge road points,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after Saturday's rain-soaked 2-1 victory. “Huge for us.”
At the halfway, mark, though. Sporting appeared to be on their way to a single point – or none at all.
Toronto went down 1-0 on Sapong's 18th-minute goal, but seized the momentum with Darel Russell's 38th-minute equalizer, following a bad connection in the back between Kansas City keeper Jimmy Nielsen and center back Aurelien Collin. The Reds then narrowly missed going up 2-1 just before the break, when Jacob Peterson cleared Bright Dike's set-piece header off the line.
The visitors regrouped, refocused and went back to pressing. It paid off with Sapong's 53rd-minute game-winner.
“I thought the second half, we played much more to what we wanted to do, and we played the game well and put them under pressure,” Vermes said. “We managed the game properly, based on what the conditions were and what the situations were. I thought we were smart in the second half.”
Vermes left leading scorer Claudio Bieler and defensive midfielder Uri Rosell back in Kansas City with what he said were minor strains. Bieler has 10 goals in his first season, and Saturday's match was only the second Rosell has missed all year.
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“I decided not to push them through,” Vermes said. “I don't want to turn a minor injury into a major one. Both of them happened Friday.”
Vermes also started Sapong at left wing for Soony Saad and gave Ike Opara a nod at center back ahead of Matt Besler. Opara was solid through the match, and Sapong doubled his season goal total and has three tallies in his last two matches.
“Today, he was very important to how we wanted to play,” Vermes said. “Obviously, two great goals over the course of the game. He was tremendous in that regard, but it's not just that. It's everything on both sides of the ball. He's becoming a handful for players to play against. That's huge.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.