Kansas extends run with Red Bulls win
Sporting KC not only maintained first place in the Eastern Conference, it showed the New York Red Bulls they have a long way to go to be as good.
C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara scored first-half goals, Graham Zusi got his MLS-best 14th assist and Sporting KC won the battle for first place and extended its unbeaten streak to seven games with a 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls on Wednesday night.
''This is huge,'' Kamara said. ''Getting the win on the road is definitely big, but getting a win on the road to New York, which was undefeated at home, is something that puts a statement to our season,'' Kamara said after Sporting KC (16-7-6) opened a four-point lead over second-place Chicago and a five-point bulge over third-place New York (14-8-7) with five games left in the regular season.
The bottom line was that coach Peter Vermes' team was just better than the Red Bulls, who didn't generate much offense until late when they loaded their lineup with offensive players.
Even then, the chances New York got weren't very good.
''Of course I'm surprised,'' Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said. ''It's a big game. We're fighting to be No. 1 and win, but they're No. 1.''
It was a typical Red Bulls game. They fell behind early and this time they couldn't come back in losing at Red Bull Arena for the first time in 14 games (10-1-3) this season.
''If you go and play against Kansas City and you are 2-nil down after 20 minutes, it's hard,'' Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry said.
Sporting KC came into the game with the MLS' best defense (25 goals allowed), and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen didn't have to make his first save until the 56th minute in recording his league-best 12th shutout.
''Not only the defenders, but my team in front of me, made my job pretty easy today,'' said Nielsen, who finished with four saves.
The Red Bulls would have moved into first place in the conference with a win, and the remarkable thing about the game was that only 10,287 fans showed up for the match.
In many ways, the Red Bulls didn't show up either.
''The way I look at it, we came from the opening whistle,'' Vermes said. ''We came here to play. We weren't going to sit in and drop 11 guys in a 30-yard space and try to play that way. We talked about trying to disrupt their rhythm from the get-go.''
Both Sporting KC goals came off set pieces.
Sapong, who gave Sporting KC a 1-1 tie with a goal in injury time against Houston on Friday night, put his team ahead in the 12th minute. Zusi's free kick from just outside the penalty box slammed off the crossbar. Defenseman Matt Besler got the rebound and slid the ball forward to Sapong, who turned and beat goalkeeper Bill Gaudette with a shot inside the post for his seventh goal.
''I just knew there was a lot of bodies in the box,'' Sapong said. ''Those are the types of shots that are tough for goalies. The ball was in front of me so I know he didn't see it until I shot it. It actually went through somebody's legs and slipped in.''
Kamara, whose own goal gave the Red Bulls a 1-1 draw in Kansas City on Aug. 26, scored his team-high 11th goal seven minutes later. Zusi took a corner kick and an unmarked Kamara scored on a header after New York defender Wilman Conde didn't cover him.
The Red Bulls' best scoring chances came in the final 15 minutes. Second-half substitute Lloyd Sam got off a weak shot after coming up with a loose ball in the box, while Nielsen had a make a diving save on substitute Sebastien Le Toux minutes later. New York also had a chance in injury time off a scramble but missed the net.
There was an incident near at the end of the game where Henry and Kamara inadvertently hit heads as the teams lined up for a free kick. There was some pushing and shoving before things calmed down.
The MLS has put a greater important on finishing with the most points in the regular season. The team with the most points that reaches the championship game will host it.
''To score two goals here and get a shutout, it's a massive result for us, especially how tight we are in regards to points,'' Vermes said. ''We'll try to keep the pressure on everybody else.''
Chris Wondolowski scored two goals in the second half, including the tying goal in stoppage time, to lift the San Jose Earthquakes to a draw with the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night.
Wondolowski, who entered the game in the 58th minute, scored his 20th and 21st goals - extending his franchise single-season record, career-high and league-leading total - to help San Jose (17-6-6) improve to 11-0-5 in its last 16 matches at Buck Shaw Stadium. The Earthquakes also remained three points ahead of Sporting Kansas City in the Supporters' Shield race for the most points in the standings.
Portland (7-14-8), which got two goals from Danny Mwanga, squandered an opportunity for its first road win of the season. Instead, the Timbers remained winless in a 16th straight road match and are on pace to be just the fifth MLS club to go a full season without a road victory.
San Jose salvaged the critical point after an attempted flick clearance by Portland defender Hanyer Mosquera floated to the back post, where an open Wondolowski headed it home.
San Jose brought in Wondolowski and Alan Gordon - initially rested in the midst of a three-games-in-eight-days stretch - looking for late-match magic, and they each had a hand in the Earthquakes' first goal.
Gordon flicked on a long lead pass from Victor Bernardez in the 73rd minute, and Steven Lenhart got a sliding touch on it to free Wondolowski, who converted with his left foot from 16 yards. It was Wondolowski's first goal in the run of play since July 14.
Mwanga used his strength to create his own goal-scoring chance in the 45th minute, staying upright despite a hard challenge from Bernardez. Bernardez's attempt to knock the ball from Mwanga fed straight to Rodney Wallace in the middle of a stretched-out San Jose defense. Wallace slid a through ball right back to Mwanga, who took one dribble to avoid converging defenders and charging goalkeeper Jon Busch and found the empty net.
Mwanga, acquired from Philadelphia in June, made it 2-0 with a crackling 25-yard blast across the face of goal to the upper corner of the far post in the 62nd minute. The play was set up by a 40-yard run through the midfield by Franck Songo'o. Earthquakes midfielder Sam Cronin futilely gave chase, eventually coming up short on a sliding tackle, and Songo'o easily swiveled around Bernardez before feeding Mwanga, who had plenty of time to line up his shot.
Justin Meram scored in the 89th minute to give the Columbus Crew victory over Chivas USA on Wednesday night.
The Crew (13-10-6) broke a two-game losing streak to move into fifth in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of D.C. United for the final playoff spot. Columbus has five matches left, D.C. has six.
Meram, who entered in the 80th minute, put in a headed back pass from Jairo Arrieta after Arrieta was denied by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. The rebound came back to Arrieta and he lunged to get the ball to Meram for his fourth goal of the season.
''Good job by Jairo,'' Meram said. ''I just saw it bounce out and I just wanted to connect it and I hit it with pace. I didn't want to place it and after that, I was fortunate it went in.''
The play started with another second half substitute, Tony Tchani, feeding Federico Higuain on the left flank.
''I was trying to go toward the goal but it was kind of crowded and I saw Federico wide,'' Tchani said. ''I kind of opened myself and he saw me.''
Crew coach Robert Warzycha had exhausted all three subs with 10 minutes left in order to spark a badly needed win.
''The first half didn't go our way. We were disconnected. We couldn't make any passes stick,'' he said. ''Sometimes the game doesn't go your way and you have to change something.''
Chivas (7-14-7) is 0-6-2 in the past eight games and has lost four straight.
The defeat was a microcosm of the season according to coach Robin Fraser, who watched the match from the stands because of a one-game ban.
''I really thought in the first half we put together some really good things,'' he said. ''We were quite dangerous. It's frustrating to not to continue to play as well then obviously put ourselves behind the eight-ball.''