KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Game after game, Sporting Kansas City keeps on going back to the long throw.
Judging by Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory against the Columbus Crew at Livestrong Sporting Park, the well is nowhere near dry.
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For the fifth time this season, a Matt Besler throw-in resulted in a Kansas City goal, this tmie as Julius James looped a header over his own goalkeeper for an own-goal. It gave Sporting three points that put them in first place in the Eastern Conference, bringing them to 44 points through 31 games.
And even though it wasn’t one of his teammates on the end of his overhand chuck into the six-yard box, Besler wasn’t discounting the end result.
“I’ll take it for sure,” he said before smiling and half-jokingly campaigning for a little extra credit. “I wish they would give the goal to me.”
What started as just another opportunity to get the ball into dangerous areas has now become a staple of the Sporting attack, forcing opposing defenders think twice about putting the ball out of play near their own goal.
If they do, Besler dutifully trots forward to hurl the ball to the edge of the six-yard box for Sporting’s collection of towering targets to attack. With the likes of CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara and Aurelien Collin throwing themselves at the ball, the play has proven to be effective even though everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming.
So effective, in fact, that manager Peter Vermes downright scoffed at the idea that Kansas City would even think about giving up the tactic anytime soon. Then again, why would they when it causes so much havoc for opposing defenses?
“It’s too dangerous with the guys that we have on our team [to stop],” Vermes said. “It’s CJ and Kei and Collin [coming] forward, even Julio [Cesar] at times. That’s a lot of guys that can get in the box. It’s a weapon. It’s almost like a corner kick for us. We’re going to take those as many times as we can.”
Asked what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the play, goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen said he just feels sorry for opposing goalkeepers.
“I’m just glad I’m on the same team as Kei, CJ and Besler,” Nielsen said. “It’s not unstoppable. But if the ball is thrown in the right place with the right timing, you can’t handle it.”
And just like Portland [twice], Real Salt Lake and Seattle before them, Columbus successfully dealt with a handful of throw-ins before the ball finally bounced Kansas City’s way thanks to James.
Kansas City have now won four out of the five games in which a Besler throw has led to a goal, so perhaps it was fitting that they would move into first place by virtue of the play that has helped propel them to the top.
“It’s a deadly weapon,” Graham Zusi said. “I’m glad we keep on cashing in from it.”