KANSAS CITY, Kan. – There's a new leader in the Eastern Conference, as D.C. United continue their comeback from the shambles that was their 2013 MLS campaign – and the frustration continues at home for Sporting Kansas City.
D.C. United took over the top spot in the East on Saturday night, riding a first-half blitz to a 3-0 victory over Sporting that moved them one point ahead of the defending MLS Cup champions. United (13-7-4) won for just the fifth time in 11 road matches, while Sporting (12-7-6), who have the league's best away record, fell to 5-2-6 at Sporting Park.
United went on a three-goal tear in a span of under eight minutes in the first half, with scores from Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and Perry Kitchen staking them to a 3-0 lead by just past the half-hour mark, and then never looked back.
The match was the first in MLS history to feature two Homegrown players starting in goal – United's Bill Hamid and Sporting's Jon Kempin. Hamid won that matchup handily, finishing with three saves and his sixth shutout, while Kempin too often found himself isolated by D.C.'s smart runs into space.
Saturday night also marked the first time Sporting repeated a starting XI, with a lineup identical to that from last weekend's 4-1 home victory over Toronto FC. That small bit of consistency didn't help out the home side, who had to go with a starter-heavy lineup on Tuesday in Nicaragua as they opened CONCACAF Champions League play with a 1-1 draw against Real Esteli.
D.C. withstood Sporting's early pressure, found their counterattacking form and went up 1-0 in the 24th minute on Espindola's club-leading ninth goal of the season. The striker took Luis Silva's pass, found space at the top left of Kansas City's penalty area, and slotted a low shot just past a diving Kempin and inside the far post.
The visitors doubled the lead just four minutes later, again with an assist to Silva. Rolfe made a perfectly-timed run to slip behind Sporting's back line, finishing his 1-v-1 past Kempin from the top of the box – and three minutes after that, it was 3-0 through Kitchen.
This time, it was Rolfe's turn to set up the play, his through ball springing Kitchen with plenty of space to operate behind the back line. He drove into the upper left of the penalty area, made a quick cutback to avoid charging center back Aurelien Collin, and slotted the ball near post to complete D.C.'s decisive surge.
Sporting's best chances to launch a second-half comeback came around the hour mark, but they were just off on two shots from distance, Graham Zusi drove a hard shot off the bar from 25 yards in the 60th minute, and Soony Saad was just wide right from outside the area in the 62nd.
United continue their road swing on Wednesday, taking on the LA Galaxy, while Sporting host Houston on Friday.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Fabian Espindola||Sets the tone by grabbing the first goal against the run of play, and burnishes his MVP credentials in the process|
|2||Luis Silva||Doesn't get the recognition he deserves around the league, but put in another fantastic performance in notching two assists|
|3||Perry Kitchen||Had the presence of mind on his goal to catch Sporting sleeping, and helped keep the hosts out of sorts in the first half|