PORTLAND, Ore. – It may not have had quite the drama – or reward – of their midweek triumph, but Sporting Kansas City picked up a pretty big result thanks to two heroes from their US Open Cup championship.
Krisztian Nemeth, who scored the second-half equalizer against the Philadelphia Union in Sporting’s eventual shootout win Wednesday night, hit an 83rd-minute game-winning goal for a 1-0 win in league play Saturday night against the Portland Timbers. And Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia, who made two stops in the midweek PK shootout, turned away a number of stellar Timbers chances and recorded six saves on the night.
The loss not only prevented Portland from overtaking Sporting in the tight Western Conference playoff race, but it also dropped them below the playoff red line after the San Jose Earthquakes drew even with them on points for the sixth and final postseason berth in the West. The Timbers were bumped to seventh on the goal differential tiebreaker.
After some early sloppiness from both sides, with Sporting resting several starters in the first half, it was the Timbers who turned up the heat to close out the first half – and USOC hero Melia answered the bell, stopping Diego Valeri on two occasions and turning away Darlington Nagbe with another diving effort.
Sporting still didn’t see much of the ball in the second half despite the introduction of winger Graham Zusi after the break. Despite all the Portland pressure, the Timbers still couldn’t figure out Melia, who used a kick save to thwart second-half substitute Lucas Melano on a point-blank shot in the 65th minute.
Portland cried foul a minute later when Fanendo Adi crossed to an onrushing Melano, who went down in the box as he ran onto the ball, but head referee Ismail Elfath didn’t blow his whistle.
In all, Portland fired off 17 shots – six on goal – but couldn’t find the back of the net.
On the other end, Nemeth’s winning effort was a stellar display of talent, as the second-half substitute dribbled the ball upfield before skirting around two defenders at the right corner of the box and fired past Kwarasey and inside the far post for the winner.
Portland don’t return to action until Oct. 14, on the road against Real Salt Lake. Sporting next play Oct. 16 at San Jose.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.