September 28, 2012
Fire’s bid for first place stops short in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Kansas—First place in the MLS East slipped a little farther away from the Chicago Fire on Friday night, with a 2-0 loss to conference leaders Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park.
|Graham Zusi scored both goals as Sporting Kansas City topped the Chicago Fire 2-0 on Friday night.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Graham Zusi scored both goals for Sporting (17-7-7, 58 pts), who sewed up a spot in the MLS postseason and closed to within two points of Supporters’ Shield leaders San Jose. The Fire (16-9-5, 53 pts) snapped their longest winning streak in seven years at four games, and suffered their first road loss in Kansas City since 2007.
Sporting dictated the tone of the game from the opening whistle, but the Fire came up with the first solid scoring chance. In the sixth minute, Gonzalo Segares forced a turnover deep in the Fire end and launched a long ball for Sherjill MacDonald, who was making a run down the right side. MacDonald beat his defender to the ball and cut inside to make space, but instead of taking a shot dished left to Chris Rolfe, whose low shot rolled just wide of the right post.
MacDonald’s reluctance to shoot came back to haunt the Fire again in the 44th minute, when Rolfe’s pass sprung the Dutch forward into the box to challenge Nielsen one-on-one. MacDonald once again passed the ball across the box, but there were no red jerseys in sight.
Quick counterattacks were essential to the Fire, especially through the first 45 minutes, since the finely-tuned Sporting defense made sustained possession all but impossible. Kansas City, meanwhile, made life miserable for the Chicago back line. In the ninth minute, Kei Kamara slipped a quick ball to Paulo Nagamura, who got off a rising 20-yard shot that gave netminder Sean Johnson his first save of the game. Two minutes later, Johnson was left helpless as Kamara got the ball just inside midfield, spun past defender Gonzalo Segares and brought the ball into the right side of the area before squaring it into the center of the box. Zusi darted in and one-touched a sharp 10-yard shot into the net to stake KC to a 1-0 lead.
Kamara came within inches of doubling Kansas City’s lead in the 36th minute, with a close-in header off a corner kick. But Johnson parried the ball off the crossbar and back into play. Fernandez cleared the ball to KC’s Lawrence Olum, who lost it over the line to end the threat.
The Fire threatened several times in the closing minutes of the half, but got no closer than a long shot by Alvaro Fernandez that was touched wide of the net by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. In keeping with the Fire’s overall lack of luck for the period, Sporting was awarded possession instead of having to defend a corner kick.
The futility continued for the Fire after the intermission. Rolfe put a shot on the roof of the net in the 57th minute, and a string of chances after the hour mark fell victim to Sporting’s superiority in the air. In the 66th minute, Patrick Nyarko crossed the ball from deep on the left side, but a Sporting defender headed it over the line. Another defender easily got to the ensuing corner kick, and even though the ball was cleared back to Fernandez for the Fire, his pass into the box also was won by a defender.
Two minutes later, Segares finally forced Nielsen to make a save, snapping a header on goal off a 25-yard free kick, but the ball went straight to the Sporting ‘keeper.
Sixty-first-minute sub Dominic Oduro orchestrated perhaps the Fire’s best chance to level the score, in the 73rd minute, blazing down the center of the field on a breakaway with Rolfe and MacDonald. By the time Oduro dished off near the top of the penalty area, however, it was into a clump of bodies including MacDonald, Rolfe and two backtracking defenders. MacDonald finally got off a shot, which deflected off Chance Myers’ leg on its way out of bounds. Once again, the call went KC’s way, and the ball went back upfield.
Kamara remained the linchpin of Kansas City’s attack through the second half, but he was far from the only threat. In the 63rd minute, CJ Sapong and Roger Espinoza brought the ball down the left wing, before Sapong found Kamara off the near post. His poorly-struck volley gave Johnson a little trouble, but the Fire keeper was able to hang on for the save.
In the 78th minute, Sapong challenged Johnson with an on-target header, and Nagamura’s follow-up shot was blocked before reaching the ‘keeper, and three minutes later, Chicago’s failure to clear a free kick left Myers with an open 10-yard heard that sailed over the bar.
Newly-signed Chicago forward Guillermo Franco made his MLS debut off the bench for Nyarko in the 71st minute, and served notice of his attacking potential in the81st minute, making short work of a defender inside the box before getting off a shot that was blocked out for a corner kick. In stoppage time, although visibly winded, he got off a 19-yard shot that was saved by Nielsen.
The game grew increasingly chippy as time wound down, and Chicago’s frustration finally got the better of them. Coach Frank Klopas was ejected for protesting what he perceived as an uncalled foul on Franco early in stoppage time, and Segares, who already had been cautioned for dissent in the 72nd minute, received his second yellow card and followed Klopas to the locker room after fouling Sapong in the third added minute. Zusi helped Sporting take advantage of the shorthanded Fire in the sixth minute of stoppage, beating Johnson to the right side from the top of the box.