KANSAS CITY, Kan. – New York striker Thierry Henry was ejected for violent conduct and Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong each scored goals in the second half to propel Sporting Kansas City to a 2-0 victory and a secured spot in the 2011 MLS Playoffs.
With the victory and the Philadelphia Union’s 1-1 draw against Toronto, Sporting move into first place in the Eastern Conference on 48 points via the goals-scored tiebreaker. New York remain in fifth in the East on 43 points with a single game remaining against the Union in which they will now be without Henry.
Henry delivered a knee to the back of Roger Espinoza while the midfielder was on the ground a half hour into the match that dropped New York to 10 men, giving Kansas City an opportunity that they didn’t squander in front of 19,921 fans at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Bunbury put Sporting up with his ninth goal of the season in the 57th minute. Graham Zusi’s corner wasn’t properly cleared by New York and found its way to Júlio César, who cushioned a short-range header to Bunbury’s foot.
The 21-year-old made no mistake with the chance, pounding the ball low past New York goalkeeper Frank Rost on the volley.
Down a goal and a man, Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe went to his bench in the 70th minute, inserting Juan Agudelo for Luke Rodgers, but it was Sporting manager Peter Vermes who got the best out of his substitutions.
Vermes sent Sapong on for Omar Bravo in the 73rd minute, and the rookie scored the all-important second goal with his very first touch just a minute later. Zusi’s corner kick was headed back toward the six-yard box by Matt Besler, and Sapong turned on a dime and flicked it past Rost to make it 2-0 in favor of the home side.
Kansas City managed to see the match out from there without any issues, claiming their first spot in the playoffs since 2008, while New York must wait another week to decide their fate in Philadelphia.
And they’ll do it without Henry, who picked up his second red card this season in the 28th minute after he collided with Espinoza near midfield. The two players had clashed in the midfield just seconds before, and referee Kevin Stott judged the play to be violent conduct by Henry, who argued vehemently before he eventually left the field.
Sporting were the better of the two teams from the very start, coming inches from opening the scoring 50 seconds into the match when Bravo found Aurélien Collin unmarked at the back post following a Zusi corner kick. Bravo’s curling service was inch-perfect, but Collin’s header was just off the mark, skipping past the far post.
Two minutes later, Kansas City was at it again. Chance Myers and Kei Kamara combined on the right flank, and the Sierra Leone international found himself in acres of space with teammates streaming into the penalty area. Kamara picked out Bravo’s run, but his low, driven cross was just out of reach for Bravo.
Even though New York were decidedly on the back foot, the Red Bulls managed to test Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen after 11 minutes when Joel Lindpere created something out of nothing. The Estonian dribbled from midfield, turning Myers and Collin inside out, and his service bounced around in the area, eventually falling to Dane Richards. Richards put his effort on frame, but Nielsen was there to push it away.
Bunbury had three scoring opportunities in the last 15 minutes of the first half – two of which were created by Zusi – but couldn’t put any of the three on frame despite finding himself in prime positions.
Sporting wrap up the regular season on the road on Oct. 22 at D.C. United, while the Red Bulls host Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
KC -- Teal Bunbury 9 (Julio Cesar 2) 57
KC -- C.J. Sapong 5 (Matt Besler 3, Graham Zusi 7) 74
New York Red Bulls -- Frank Rost, Jan Gunnar Solli, Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, Roy Miller, Dane Richards, Teemu Tainio (Mehdi Ballouchy 83), Rafael Marquez (Stephane Auvray 83), Joel Lindpere, Luke Rodgers (Juan Agudelo 70), Thierry Henry.
Substitutes Not Used: Matt Kassel, Carlos Mendes, John Rooney, Bouna Coundoul.
Sporting KC -- Jimmy Nielsen, Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Kei Kamara (Soony Saad 89), Roger Espinoza (Davy Arnaud 55), Julio Cesar, Graham Zusi, Omar Bravo (C.J. Sapong 73), Teal Bunbury.
Substitutes Not Used: Michael Harrington, Lawrence Olum, Jeferson, Eric Kronberg.
NY -- Thierry Henry (ejection; Violent Conduct) 27
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: Adam Wienckowski; Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Edvin Jurisevic
Time of Game: 1:53
Weather: Sunny and 69 degrees