KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City needed only one point in their regular-season finale to finish atop the Eastern Conference for a second straight year. They went ahead and took all three, thanks to C.J. Sapong.
Sporting locked up home-field advantage through the conference playoffs with Wednesday night's 2-1 victory over the Philadephia Union, with goals from Jacob Peterson in the first half and Sapong just eight minutes from time.
Kei Kamara assisted on both goals, giving him a career-high eight on the season, and Sapong had the second assist on Peterson's score.
Sporting (18-7-9) extended their season-long unbeaten streak to 12 matches and now sit six points clear of second-place D.C. United, who have just one match left to play. The match wasn't without its downside for Kansas City, though, as midfielder Paulo Nagamura went out with an ankle injury in the first half.
Antoine Hoppenot scored on the rebound of a saved penalty kick for Philadelphia (10-17-6) in the second half, denying Sporting's Jimmy Nielsen the 16th clean sheet that would have tied him with Tony Meola's league record from 2000.
With Roger Espinoza sidelined for a second straight match with a sprained right ankle, Kansas City's midfield corps took another hit in the 27th minute when Paulo Nagamura went down with a left ankle sprain. He came off for treatment and was able to re-enter the match, but had to be subbed out for Peterson in the 33rd.
Peterson wasted little time making an impact. Seven minutes after coming on, he beat Michael Lahoud to Kamara's cross from the left wing and one-timed the ball past Union 'keeper Zac MacMath.
MacMath came up big at the end of the first half, though, making back-to-back saves on blasts by Graham Zusi to keep Philadelphia within one at the break, and the Union were able to equalize through Hoppenot's opportunistic play in the 53rd minute.
Danny Cruz drew a penalty-kick foul on Matt Besler at the top of Sporting's 18-yard box, but Nielsen sprawled to his left to stop Michael Farfan's low shot from the spot.
That only postponed the equalizer for a brief moment, though. Hoppenot, who came on for Gabriel Gomez to start the second half, dashed in from the top right of the area and buried the rebound.
Philadelphia actually ended up carrying much of the play in the second half, and looked the likelier of the two teams to score for much of it. Jack McInerney proved a constant menace, and nearly got the go-ahead goal on a diving header from 17 yards, only to see if ping off of the upright.
Nonetheless, it looked set to be a draw until the 82nd minute, when Kamara capped a long run through the Union defense with another well-placed cross. Sapong blasted it home for his ninth goal, and Sporting made it stand up for the win.
Philadelphia close out their season this weekend against the New York Red Bulls.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||C.J. Sapong||Scored the game winner and helped make the first with a perfect feed into space. Playing the best soccer of his career at the moment.|
|2||Kei Kamara||The first assist was second, while the strength he showed on the second simply can not be taught. Does yeoman's work clearing set pieces defensively as well.|
|3||Antoine Hoppenot||Heads-up play on the goal, and probably deserved a penalty when he was brought down by Nielsen in the 77th. A real difference-maker off the bench.|