KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Sporting Kansas City, who were dead last in the league in May, continued their resurgence after the opening of LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs with a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. A standing-room-only crowd of 19,921 saw Sporting earn its first playoff berth since 2008.
With Philadelphia and Toronto playing to a 1-1 tie, Sporting moved into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Kansas City started the game in full-on attack mode. The first truly dangerous chance came in the first minute. Omar Bravo lifted a soft cross into the six-yard box, where defender Aurelien Collin headed it just wide.
New York's first chance came in the 11th minute when they put a ball into the penalty area. Luke Rodgers whiffed on it before Dane Richards took a shot that was saved by Jimmy Nielsen.
New York's hopes for winning the match took a huge hit in the 28th minute. While Roger Espinoza was on the ground, Thierry Henry kneed him in the back. Referee Kevin Stott wasted no time in reaching for the red card, and New York was reduced to 10 men.
Kansas City fairly dominated possession for the remainder of the first half, but the two teams went to their locker rooms deadlocked in a scoreless tie.
Sporting finally broke through in the 57th minute. Graham Zusi took a corner kick from the right wing. One player from each team got a head on it before Julio Cesar got the final header to Teal Bunbury, who volleyed it past goalkeeper Frank Rost.
It was Bunbury's ninth goal of the season, pushing him into a three-way tie for the team lead with Kei Kamara and Bravo.
In the 71st minute, there was a nasty collision near midfield between Zusi and national team defender Tim Ream. Both players were playing the ball, but Ream got up a lot higher and put his knee into the back of Zusi's head. Both players did, however, return to the field after being attended to on the sideline.
Kansas City increased their lead to 2-0 in the 74th minute. Forward C.J. Sapong, having entered the match in the 73rd minute, took a header from Matt Besler and volleyed it into the back of the net. It was Sapong's fifth goal of the season, further cementing his credentials for MLS Rookie of the Year.
After the game, Sapong said the team never doubted they would make the playoffs.
"Not one bit of doubt. We all believed in ourselves," he said. "We all knew how good we were, how talented and deep we were. We didn't really care, because all that did was kind of isolate us from everybody else. It just made the locker room and us become stronger as a group, and ultimately, that's what got us here."
Before the game, 50 people took the oath of allegiance to the United States and became new American citizens. A US district court judge administered the oath, and they were then welcomed by US Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS). One of the new citizens from Peru then sang the national anthem.
Sporting KC closes out the regular season with a road match against DC United on Saturday, October 22, at 7:30pm EDT.