Kei Kamara wound up being the most decisive player in an indecisive game.
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Sporting Kansas City’s star forward delivered on a brilliant header in the opening minutes Sunday night, and then gave it right back with an own-goal moments later for the only scoring in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls.
Kamara’s goal in the fourth minute was his fifth in the past 10 MLS games, while the goal he scored for New York in the 28th minute resulted in a draw that left Sporting KC (14-7-5) two points clear of the Red Bulls (13-7-6) in the Eastern Conference standings.
”Every game is important, right?” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. ”We just have to move onto the next game. These are what the games are going to be like when you get to the playoffs.”
Not to mention when the teams meet again.
The rugged affair Sunday night was the first of three games the conference leaders will play over the next two months, and the only game at Livestrong Sporting Park. There were five yellow cards handed out, and Sporting KC’s Aurelien Collin will miss the next game because of this.
”This was ugly,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said. ”Two teams that definitely wanted to win.”
The scoring started before many fans had settled into their seats.
Graham Zusi took control of the ball near midfield and flicked it ahead to Teal Bunbury on the wing, and he managed to chip the ball over the heads of New York defenders Connor Lade and Markus Holgersson. Kamara then out-jumped them both to head the ball into the net, which was left wide open when goalkeeper Bill Gaudette strayed too far onto the pitch.
The goal proved to be costly for Sporting KC, though. Bunbury sprained his left knee while leaping to make the assist, putting one of the team’s hottest scorers on the sideline.
”He was putting them under pressure and that’s what Teal has been doing well,” said Vermes, adding that Bunbury will probably have an MRI exam on the knee this week. ”They were a little afraid of him getting behind them.”
The equalizer for New York came in the 28th minute.
Red Bulls forward Sebastien Le Toux set up for a spot kick far out on the wing, and sent a scorcher into the box. Tim Cahill was angling toward the net and Kamara tried to block him, but he got just enough of the ball with his head to send it past Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
”There was obviously some miscommunication,” Nielsen said. ”Someone yelled to leave it, and Kei was trying not to touch it, and he got a piece of it. It was a really soft goal.”
It still counted the same.
The own-goal was only the fifth goal allowed in 13 games by Sporting KC’s starting defense of Collin, Seth Sinovic, Chance Myers and Matt Besler.
That quartet kept New York’s high-scoring attack out of the goal the rest of the night, and moved to 22-2-6 when they start a game together, including a 10-1-2 mark this season.
It helped their cause that the Red Bulls played without forward Thierry Henry, whose wife gave birth to a son Friday. Henry is expected to return to the team this week.
”We started the game exactly as we wanted to with high pressure,” Besler said. ”The goals didn’t go in tonight, but we’re still in the position we want to be.”