KANSAS CITY, Kan. – One down, one to go, and they still need a little help from their foes. But for a night, at least, Sporting Kansas City are in the Supporters' Shield lead.
Dom Dwyer's early goal lifted Sporting to a 1-0 victory over cellar-dwelling D.C. United on Friday night at frigid Sporting Park, giving Kansas City (16-10-7) 55 points going into next weekend's regular-season finale at Philadelphia.
That puts them two points ahead of New York and Portland in the Shield race, but both of those teams are in action later this weekend – the Timbers at home to Real Salt Lake on Saturday and the Red Bulls at Houston on Sunday.
Jimmy Nielsen needed only one save – a clutch stop at the quarter-hour mark – to earn his league-leading 13th clean sheet as Kansas City won for the fifth time in their last eight games and clinched a top-two finish in the Eastern Conference.
United's loss guaranteed that the surprise US Open Cup champions (3-23-7) will end the year with more victories in Cup competition (five) than in the 34-match league season. If they do not snap their 11-match winless streak in their final game, on Oct. 27 against Houston, they also will finish with the fewest victories in MLS' 18-year history.
With rain falling and temperatures in the mid-30s at kickoff, both sides found themselves looking less than sharp early on. It took just over six minutes for Dwyer to bag his game-winner, courtesy of bad ballhandling from the visitors and some hustle from teammate Peterson Joseph.
Jared Jeffrey sent a back pass to defender Perry Kitchen, who was slow in taking it and then misplayed the ball between his feet. Joseph closed, dispossessed Kitchen and sent the ball to Dwyer, who drove past 'keeper Bill Hamid and put his shot into the open net.
United had a golden chance to equalize in the 15th minute, when Chris Pontius' through ball sprung Jeffrey for a 1-on-1 with Nielsen. Jeffrey's stutter-stepping wasn't enough to get the veteran 'keeper to overcommit, though, and Nielsen stoned Jeffrey's shot from point-blank range.
That was United's only shot on goal, although the close scoreline meant Sporting couldn't relax until the final whistle
Sporting have one important home match to play before their date with the Union, but need only a draw against Honduras' CD Olimpia on Wednesday to advance to next year's knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Kitchen will miss D.C's finale on a yellow-card suspension, after being cautioned in the first half for a bad foul on Soony Saad.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Dom Dwyer||Showed great awareness and a cool head to score the game's only goal and gave the D.C. defense plenty to think about for all his time on the field|
|2||Ike Opara||Simply dominant in the air, made a couple good last-ditch clearances and let very little get past him. As good a game as any he's had in Sporting uniform|
|3||Matt Besler||Not to be outdone by his defensive partner, Besler read the game and the bounce of the ball well, further securing things on the Sporting backline|