COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Sporting Kansas City watched as Colorado Rapids players seemingly fell one by one on Sunday, and suddenly find themselves with seemingly every advantage in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
Striker Teal Bunbury scored on a breakaway and from the penalty spot in the second half as SKC pounced on a hobbled, 10-man Rapids team for a 2-0 win and a comfortable lead heading into the second leg of the aggregate-goal series on their home turf at Livestrong Sporting Park on Wednesday (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
Bunbury exposed veteran Colorado defender Tyrone Marshall on the first goal, streaking past the Rapids’ back line to gather a feed from midfielder Júlio César before coolly slotting a shot to the far post past Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 50th minute.
The postseason goal was the first of his career for Bunbury, who promptly rushed to embrace the roughly 50 Sporting KC fans in attendance that eagerly took him into their happy fold.
His second celebration was far more muted, but the goal doubly as damning for the Rapids. Bunbury once again got past Marshall into the box before he was pulled to the ground, earning Marshall a red-card ejection for the last-man tackle and sending Bunbury to the penalty spot.
Bunbury buried the ensuing penalty kick in the 59th minute, and may have buried the Rapids in the process. Sporting KC lost just twice in 17 games at home this season, and were unbeaten there over the last five games of the regular season.
And if those odds weren’t long enough for the defending MLS Cup champions, they might have trouble just fielding a full squad to make it interesting. The Rapids lost striker Caleb Folan (left ankle) and defender Kosuke Kimura (left foot) to injuries in the first half, and were then forced to sub out defender Drew Moor in the second half due to a right shoulder sprain.
Moor, who set a league record this season for field players by logging 90 minutes in 69 consecutive games, hadn’t been subbed out of a game since Sept. 20, 2007, when he played with FC Dallas. Moor was slammed by Bunbury on a shoulder charge in the waning minutes of the first half, and was uncharacteristically unable to gut out the final 45 minutes.
But it was simply that kind of night for the Rapids, who lost at home for the first time in their last four postseason games at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and never found the offensive rhythm that got them past the Columbus Crew in their wild card matchup last Thursday.
Instead, they were forced to plug and play where they could, and watched Bunbury take full advantage of Marshall after he came on for the injured Kimura in the first half. The Rapids’ best scoring chance of the night came off the foot of Macoumba Kandji, who had his breakaway chance snuffed out by Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 76th minute.
Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, were more than content to sit on their 2-0 lead in the second half, clamping down on Kandji and wild card hero Omar Cummings and keeping wingers Brian Mullan and Sanna Nyassi largely in check.
Neither team seriously threatened to score during a conservative first half, but the Rapids had the better looks. Their best chance came in the 29th minute, when midfielder Wells Thompson took a feed from Cummings, cut inside from the left edge of the penalty box and sailed a right-footed shot just wide of the far post.
Thompson drew the start because of injuries to both Pablo Mastroeni (concussion) and Jamie Smith (torn ACL). Sporting Kansas City striker Omar Bravo was available to play, but never came off the bench while dealing with tightness in his groin.
But on this night, Sporting Kansas City had more than enough bodies and opportunities to land the first punch of a series that now sees the defending league champs up against the ropes.
KC -- Teal Bunbury 1 (Julio Cesar 1) 49
KC -- Teal Bunbury 2 (penalty kick) 59
Sporting KC -- Jimmy Nielsen, Chance Myers, Julio Cesar (Jeferson 78), Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Kei Kamara (Soony Saad 89), Aurelien Collin, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Teal Bunbury (Davy Arnaud 69).
Substitutes Not Used: Omar Bravo, Michael Harrington, Lawrence Olum, Eric Kronberg.
Colorado Rapids -- Matt Pickens, Kosuke Kimura (Tyrone Marshall 36), Drew Moor (Scott Palguta 60), Marvell Wynne, Miguel Comminges, Brian Mullan, Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson, Sanna Nyassi, Omar Cummings, Caleb Folan (Macoumba Kandji 23).
Substitutes Not Used: Andre Akpan, Joseph Nane, Ross LaBauex, Steward Ceus.
KC -- Teal Bunbury (caution; Reckless Foul) 47+
COL -- Tyrone Marshall (ejection; Denied Goal Scoring Opportunity (Foul)) 57
COL -- Sanna Nyassi (caution; Reckless Tackle) 63
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: Frank Anderson; Ian Anderson
4th Official: Juan Guzman
Weather: Clear and 63 degrees