PORTLAND, Ore. — Sporting Kansas City relied on two goals in the first 20 minutes to extend their unbeaten streak to eight games on Saturday with a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field.
Sporting (5-6-5, 20 points) struck with goals by C.J. Sapong in the 15th minute and Aurélien Collin in the 19th. The Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe cut the lead in half with a spectacular goal just before the halftime whistle.
Portland (5-8-3) tinkered with their lineup in hopes of finding a winning combination that could break them out of their funk, but still couldn’t raise their arms in victory, losing for the third time in their last four games in front of its boisterous sellout crowd of 18,627. Portland will enter the biggest home game of the year — next weekend against rivals Seattle Sounders — on a six-game winless streak.
Sporting KC got standout play out of their midfield and forward Omar Bravo found Sapong for an early scoring chance. Sapong got space around the defense of Mamadou “Futty” Danso and slotted a goal past Troy Perkins to put his team up 1-0.
Four minutes later, Matt Besler and Sapong set up Collin’s header to put Sporting on top 2-0. Besler launched in a long throw-in that Sapong flicked on with his head. Collin, standing near the top of the six-yard box, measured the ball and turned his head at the right moment, guiding it just inside the post for the 2-0 lead.
It was a bad scenario for the Timbers, who spent the week re-evaluating after a poor 4-0 loss at FC Dallas last week. Head coach John Spencer promised he would shake up the lineup, if he saw fit, and he did it Saturday night.
Kenny Cooper and Jeremy Hall, two of the team’s building blocks and starters of the Timbers’ first 15 games, began the night on the bench.
Forward Eddie Johnson, in for Cooper, made his first start for the Timbers and had a chance to cut the deficit in half in the 25th minute, but had his attempt broken up by Sporting defender Mike Harrington.
Finally, in the 45th minute, heralded rookie Darlington Nagbe took matters into his own hands, trapping a ball that had been punched out by Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, juggling it twice with his right foot and then sending it inside the upper corner of the far post.
It was Nagbe’s first MLS goal and it sent Portland into halftime with a sense of accomplishment.
In the second half, the Timbers tried to carry their momentum forward but could not find an equalizer.
Two Jorge Perlaza attempts, including a blast that grazed the crossbar in the 48th minute, sandwiched a great save from ‘keeper Troy Perkins, who kept the Timbers within comeback distance by making a vital foot save off Bravo attempt in the 51st minute.
Cooper, who has started 101 of 106 games in his MLS career, came on in the 67th minute and had an immediate header chance in the six-yard box to level things up for the Timbers. However, his weak attempt was gathered by Sporting ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen without any trouble.
Cooper came off the bench in an MLS game for the first time since 2007. But his goal-scoring drought continued. He hasn’t scored since April 30.
With just a couple of minutes left in the match, ex-Kansas City player and current Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury had a chance to stick it to his former club. The midfielder found the ball 25 yards out from goal, but his screamer went just wide of the net.
The Timbers — who received a loud “Beat Se-attle!” message from their supporters’ group after the match — will host the Sounders on July 10. Sporting, meanwhile, face a quick turnaround. They will return home to face defending champs Colorado Rapids on July 6, then host Chivas USA three days later.
KC -- C.J. Sapong 3 (Omar Bravo 2) 15
KC -- Aurelien Collin 2 (Matt Besler 1, C.J. Sapong 3) 19
POR -- Darlington Nagbe 1 (unassisted) 45
POR -- Steve Purdy (caution; Reckless Tackle) 60
POR -- Jack Jewsbury (caution; Tactical Foul) 63
KC -- Aurelien Collin (caution; Reckless Tackle) 71
KC -- Jimmy Nielsen (caution; Delaying a Restart) 94+
Sporting KC -- Jimmy Nielsen, Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Michael Harrington, Milos Stojcev (Kei Kamara 72), Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Julio Cesar, Omar Bravo (Birahim Diop 82), C.J. Sapong (Teal Bunbury 89).
Substitutes Not Used: Scott Lorenz, Luke Sassano, Shavar Thomas, Eric Kronberg.
Portland Timbers -- Troy Perkins, Steve Purdy, Eric Brunner, Mamadou Danso, Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe (James Marcelin 78), Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan (Sal Zizzo 72), Eddie Johnson (Kenny Cooper 67), Jorge Perlaza.
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Goldthwaite, Jeremy Hall, Adam Moffat, Adin Brown.
Referee: Hilario Grajeda
Referee's Assistants: Anthony Vasoli; Claudio Badea
4th Official: Drew Fischer
Weather: Sunny and 81 degrees