Sporting Kansas City used two first-half goals—including a world-class strike from Julio Cesar—and a stingy defense to defeat Toronto FC in front of a season-high crowd of 20,488 fans at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
The match was the first in 11 days and is also the first of five in 14 days.
Sporting KC started attacking from the starting whistle. In the third minute, Seth Sinovic broke loose on the counterattack and fed the ball ahead for Teal Bunbury. Bunbury put a good move on defender Doneil Henry and fed the ball back to Sinovic in the box, but Sinovic's first touch was lacking and he turned the ball over.
Sporting KC opened the scoring in the 18th minute. Defender Chance Myers fed the ball up the right wing to Jacob Peterson. Peterson crossed the ball in, and Henry went for the clearance and missed. The ball reached C.J. Sapong, who one-timed the ball into the back of the net.
The goal was Sapong's fifth of the season, tying him with Kei Kamara for the team lead. Sporting KC is now 11-0-0 when Sapong scores.
Toronto missed a golden opportunity in the 30th minute. Torsten Frings played the ball over the top and found Eric Avila near the top of the penalty area. Avila put a shot on target and it hit the left post, rebounded to the right post and off of defender Aurelien Collin before going over the endline.
After the game, Avila said:
"I've had one post, but never two. Torsten (Frings) played me a great ball, I brought it down, saw a gap and put it in there. Seeing it hit the first post, I thought it was in. It was just one of those heart-breaking things. If it goes in, it's 1-1 and who knows what happens."
Five minutes later, Sporting KC doubled their lead. Graham Zusi took a corner from the left side and put the ball on the far post. Cesar was unmarked on the back post and volleyed the ball past goalkeeper Milos Kocic. It was Cesar's first goal of the season and Zusi's eighth assist, tying him for the league lead with Dwayne De Rosario.
After the game in the locker room, Cesar said:
"Zusi gave me a good pass from the corner kick. I just wanted to strike it on target, and I put it into the net. I am comfortable shooting, but at my position it is not my job. Tonight I felt I could attack more, and I am very happy to score."
Sporting KC dominated the first-half possession battle, controlling the ball almost 68 percent of the first 45 minutes. Toronto FC had to wonder if that would continue when Sporting KC nearly scored directly from the second-half kickoff.
Collin launched the ball forward from about halfway into the Sporting KC half of the field. Sapong headed the ball to Teal Bunbury, who one-timed the ball, but Kocic made the initial stop. Bunbury got the rebound, but Kocic denied him again.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen came up big in the 70th minute. Luis Silva put in a nice through ball that put Danny Koevermans in one-on-one with Nielsen. Nielsen came out to cut down the angle and Koevermans' shot was met with the left boot from Nielsen. If this had been a Toronto Maple Leafs game, the announcer may have called it, "a kick save and a beauty..."
Toronto FC was lucky to finish the game with 11 men on the field.
In the 76th minute, forward Ryan Johnson had Myers draped over his back. Had a foul been given, it might not have escalated a bit, but it wasn't and Johnson appeared to kick at Collin as he shoved Myers to the ground. There was some pushing and shoving after that, but order was restored fairly quickly and referee Paul Ward booked Johnson for what was clearly frustration on Johnson's part.
Toronto FC was able to win more of the possession and managed to get 10 shots off in the second half, but was simply unable to capitalize on the opportunities they created.
At the postgame press conference I attended, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said:
"Other than the chance that was given up to (Danny) Koevermans, (Jimmy) Nielsen made a world-class save there. For him to come up with that big save that was tremendous. It kept us in the game and you hope that your keeper can do that for you over the course of multiple games and he did. Credit to the guys, great job, excellent effort tonight."
Also at the postgame press conference, new Toronto FC manager Paul Mariner said:
"Kansas City came out of the blocks really well. We tried to weather the storm, but they were coming out in waves. We changed it slightly for the first 15 (minutes) of the second half and went a little bit higher with the guys out wide. After 60 minutes, we completely changed the system. It just wasn’t meant to be tonight."
Up next for Sporting KC is a road match Wednesday at the Seattle Sounders. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. PDT. After this match, Sporting KC will not face another Western Conference team in league play unless it's in MLS Cup.
Sporting KC's next home match is Tuesday, June 26th, at 7:30 p.m. It is the quarterfinals of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and their opponent is the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL Pro, the third division of soccer in the U.S.