Sporting Kansas City know what it is to play pretty soccer and not get a result. This time, they played gritty soccer and earned three clutch late-season road points.
“All these games now are like the playoffs,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com by phone after Sporting's 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night. “We've got to keep getting hard and getting galvanized in the way we're going about our business.”
The Crew dominated possession 65.3 percent to 34.7 percent, completed 432 passes to Sporting's 228 – and still couldn't crack open the visitors' defense.
“We were very difficult to play against tonight,” Vermes said. “Very difficult to play against. I thought our mentality was really good throughout the course of the game. If I had one flaw for us through the game, it's that we gave up one too many set pieces. But outside of that, we were very good.”
One reason Columbus rarely threatened until the game's closing minutes, despite the Crew's speed up front, was that they were caught offside eight times.
“We work on that all the time,” Vermes said. “We're a very organized team. I thought tonight we were extremely disciplined in our organization. There were times we could have very easily gotten pulled out, and we didn't. We were smart.”
“They were excellent,” Vermes said. “They were both very good on the ball. They make very good decisions on the ball, and they were both very good in the one-on-one duels that they had. They read the game very, very well.”
Opara was a threat in the air all night, scoring the game-winner on a 17th-minute header off Graham Zusi's cross and having an apparent second goal waved off in the 69th when referee Jorge Gonzalez ruled he had fouled Tyson Wahl on the play. He showed his ups at the other end as well, especially when the Crew won a flurry of late set pieces.
Besler, who had the last two matches off – to keep him “healthy and hungry,” Vermes said last week – provided a solid ball-winning presence and showed off his physical toughness when he re-entered the game after a nasty collision just before the hour mark.
The U.S. international went up for an aerial duel against Columbus' Chad Barson, and both hit the pitch after knocking heads. Besler got the worst of it, leaving the pitch with blood streaming from a gash near his eye, but returned several minutes later wearing a numberless kit and Wayne Rooney-style headgear.
“That was big-time,” Vermes said. “He's got a big gash. I thought he was out, but he was like, 'No, I'm going back in. I'm ready to go.' So big-time by him. He was excellent tonight.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.