Sporting KC opens with 3-2 victory
After grabbing national headlines numerous times in the past two weeks for partnering with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation on stadium naming rights and then announcing plans to bring in NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for tryouts, Sporting Kansas City finally made headlines for its play on the soccer field.
Sporting KC opened its season with a 3-2 victory Saturday at Chivas USA as designated player Omar Bravo scored twice and striker C.J. Sapong buried the fastest goal ever by a rookie to start their first MLS appearance.
Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said he was pleased to see Bravo and Sapong make such strong debuts for the team.
"The good thing is that the two new guys on the team, our first round draft pick in C.J. — his debut, he scores and I think he had a monster game. He was dangerous, had the ball a lot, he was just very good for us. And then Omar, two timely goals. I think the first 25 minutes he struggled ... because he was so anxious, being the DP, playing against Chivas USA; I think there were so many things that he wanted to prove and then he calmed down, and once he calmed down that's when he started playing his game. And that's why he's here, because of the way he played."
Sapong found the back of the net just 1:43 into the contest when he pounced on a mistake by Chivas USA defender Ben Zemanski and buried a shot past Chivas keeper Zach Thornton.
Sapong’s goal was the fastest ever scored by a rookie who started in their debut, topping teammate Michael Harrington, who scored in the third minute of his first MLS appearance on April 14, 2007 in a 4-2 win over D.C. United. Three other MLS players have scored two minutes into their debuts, though Leandre Griffit, Michael Kraus and Josh Wolff all did so as second-half substitutes.
Sporting Kansas City continued to push forward in the game’s early moments, as forward Kei Kamara nearly converted an individual effort in the 10th minute. After receiving a pass from recent signing Milos Stojcev at midfield, Kamara pushed the ball past his defender and raced down the right side of the field before firing wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made his best save of the night, using his foot to divert a shot from Marcos Mondaini, who had combined with Nick LaBrocca on a give-and-go to break free on the left side and looked poised to even the score.
With less than a minute remaining in the first half, Sporting Kansas City doubled the lead on the first of two goals from Bravo, playing against the sister club of his former team, Chivas Guadalajara. Kamara was credited with the assist on the goal, bending a pass into the penalty area that eluded Sapong, but landed in prime position at the top of the box for Bravo to calmly chip Thornton with a first-touch shot over the goalkeeper.
Chivas USA cut the lead in half through defender Jimmy Conrad, acquired from Kansas City via the Re-Entry Process during the offseason, in the 55th minute on a corner kick from Heath Pearce. The free kick ricocheted off the back of Sapong 10 yards from goal and the Chivas USA captain struck his shot on the half-volley from close range.
Bravo then netted the eventual game-winning goal, coming off a long free kick from Nielsen in the 74th minute. The former Mexico international directed his header to the middle of the field where Kamara completed the give-and-go with a header of his own, setting up Bravo to slot his shot past Thornton for the brace. Kamara earned assists on both of Bravo’s goals on Saturday, recording multiple assists in a single game for the third time in his professional career.
The game’s final goal came in the 84th minute as Chivas USA refused to go quietly in the season opener, pulling a goal back through Zemanski, again off a corner kick. Second-half substitute Tristan Bowen’s cross was headed out by Sporting KC captain Davy Arnaud, but LaBrocca lobbed a ball back over the KC defense for Zemanski to settle and place past Nielsen into the net.
Sporting KC (1-0-0) next plays at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Chicago Fire.