Benny Feilhaber had a pair of assists as Sporting Kansas City snapped the Montreal Impact's four-game winning streak with a 2-0 victory in front of 18,609 fans at Sporting Park on Saturday night. Feilhaber had only two assists all season in 2012 with the New England Revolution.
During the postgame press conference, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes told us it was Feilhaber's best performance with the team so far this season and exactly what Vermes was looking for when Feilhaber was acquired in the offseason. Vermes added:
I've seen him play for a long time and his defensive work and the bite he has in the midfield and today he was all over the place. Then what happens when he gets the ball and he breaks the lines and he goes at defenses he has all solutions-he can play, he can dribble at a guy, he can shoot from distance. He has all those qualities. When he does that it changes the game for us as a team. When you have (Graham) Zusi running off the ball, you have CJ (Sapong) with the qualities that he has, and then Claudio (Bieler) just needs daylight and he's going to find the goal. So when you have that it gigantic for us this early in the season.
It didn't take long for Sporting KC to get started as Bieler opened the scoring in the fifth minute. Montreal's Patrice Bernier turned the ball over in the midfield, where it was picked off by defender Seth Sinovic. Sinovic passed the ball ahead to Feilhaber, who fed the ball to Bieler at the top of the 18-yard box. Bieler took one touch to his right and put the ball just inside the far post past goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
It was the second fastest goal in stadium history in league play. Only Kei Kamara's fourth-minute goal from August 2012 was faster. The strike also snapped a 197-minute scoreless streak for the home side.
During the postgame press conference I attended, Feilhaber said:
Bieler made a really good run off their center back and opened up space for himself so it was an easy choice to give him the ball. He made it look easy, which it wasn't. He was able to open up his body and bend it back post. It was an easy play for me once he made the run.
Aurelien Collin almost doubled the advantage six minutes later. Midfielder Graham Zusi had a free kick from about 40 yards out and found Collin just outside the six-yard box. Collin's header found the back of the net, but the linesman's flag was up for offside.
Sporting KC missed out on another golden opportunity in the 23rd minute. A Perkins clearance fell to midfielder Oriol Rosell near the center circle, who one-timed a pass forward to Zusi. Zusi made a run into the 18-yard box and made a short pass to Bieler, but Bieler's shot was well over the crossbar.
Montreal's one good chance in the match came just before the hour mark. Bernier played a long ball forward from the midfield stripe, and it found Davy Arnaud at the top of the 18-yard box. Arnaud's header fell to Marco Di Vaio, who put a volley on frame, but Jimmy Nielsen was there with a good save to keep the clean sheet.
Zusi secured the three points for the home side in the 80th minute. Feilhaber put a through ball between two defenders that Zusi was able to run onto. Zusi made a run into the 18-yard box and was challenged by Montreal's Karl Ouimette, but managed to stay on his feet and skip the ball over an onrushing Perkins and into the back of the net.
Shortly after the goal, it was announced that Montreal coach Marco Schällibaum had been ejected. Apparently, the Swiss manager threw a bottle of water at an official and was sent off. Schällibaum will miss Montreal's next match on April 14th at home against Columbus. It would not surprise me in the least bit if he missed at least one additional match besides that one.
With the victory, Nielsen picked up his third clean sheet of the season, which leads MLS. The shutout streak has now reached 339 minutes, the longest in MLS this season. During that streak, the defense has allowed only two shots on goal.
There was a bit of a scary moment for Sporting KC in the 28th minute. Forward C.J. Sapong went up for the ball near midfield and collided with Jeb Brovsky, taking a shot in the back. Sapong was down on the pitch for a few minutes before being stretchered off. Vermes was in the process of subbing Bobby Convey into the match when Sapong told him he was going to be okay. He returned to the field and received a loud cheer from the sellout crowd.
Sporting KC's next match is Friday, April 5, when they will take on D.C. United at 7:30 p.m. CDT at Sporting Park.