(October 5, 2013) -- Sporting KC moved one step closer to their third consecutive playoff berth with a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at Crew Stadium. Sporting KC now sits two points back of the New York Red Bulls in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
Ike Opara's 17th-minute goal was enough as Sporting KC improved their League-best road record to 7-5-3. Sporting KC also remains one of two teams in MLS to have a positive road goal differential (+2).
The Sporting KC central defender began the play when he headed a Graham Zusi corner kick across the penalty box. C.J. Sapong kept the play alive by tapping the ball back out to Zusi. The All-Star winger curled a ball to the back post where Opara directed his header past Matt Lampson.
Despite controlling 65% of the possession, the Crew forced goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to make only one save. The Danish goalkeeper calmly collected Federico Higuain's 30-yard free kick in the 77th minute to preserve his 11th shutout of 2013. Nielsen is now one back of the Philadelphia Union's Zac MacMath for most shutouts in the League.
The Crew had a good opportunity to level the match in the 81st minute on a set piece. Higuain curled a corner kick into the box and Ryan Finley beat his mark to the ball. Finley directed his header on target but Seth Sinovic alertly headed the ball over the net.
Lampson made four saves for the Crew including a reaction save on Sinovic in the 12th minute. The Crew goalkeeper also came up big to stop Dom Dwyer on a breakaway in the 83rd minute.
Opara nearly added a second for the visitors when he headed a Zusi corner kick past Lampson in the 69th minute. The goal was disallowed, however, as the assistant whistled Opara for a foul.
Sporting KC has a quick turnaround as they prepare for a mid-week match against Houston. The Dynamo currently sit four points behind Sporting KC in the Eastern Conference. Wednesday's match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. CT on KSMO-TV from BBVA Compass Stadium.
With the win, Sporting KC remains in second place in the Eastern Conference (51 points) and is now two points behind the New York Red Bulls (53 points) in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
Sporting KC has won four of the team's last five MLS matches.
Sporting KC is 227-216-115 overall all-time and 78-136-65 all-time on the road.
Saturday's victory gives Sporting KC the all-time advantage in the series with Columbus. Sporting KC is 22-21-6 against the Crew all-time and 10-12-4 on the road.
Saturday marks the third match between Sporting KC and the Columbus Crew during the 2013 regular season. Sporting KC earned victories in all three matches.
The last time Sporting KC won every match in the season series against the Crew was in 2006 when they won four consecutive matches.
The previous meetings this year resulted in a 3-2 win for Sporting KC on June 29 and a 3-0 win on September 7.
Columbus is coached by interim head coach Brian Bliss. The Crew has won four of six matches played with Bliss at the helm. The two losses in that span have both been against Sporting KC.
Columbus scored 11 goals in the six-game span, but was held scoreless against Sporting KC in both meetings.
Ike Opara scored the lone goal of the match in the 17th minute, finishing a Graham Zusi cross at the back post.
The goal is Opara's third in MLS this season, tying his single-season career high, and sixth of his career.
The assist is Zusi's eighth this season, most among all Sporting KC players, and 31st in his MLS career, which ranks him 4th in club history.
Zusi is tied for the the League lead with five game-winning assists in 2013 and with 14 game-winning assists in his career, Zusi is third on the club's all-time chart.
Zusi ranks 20th among active MLS players with 31 assists and moves into a tie for sixth among active MLS players with 14 game-winning assists.
Sporting KC leads MLS with 13 headed goals this season.
Sporting KC 10-1-1 and has won seven straight when leading at the half in 2013.
Sporting KC is 11-0-1 when leading at the 75-minute mark in 2013.
Sporting KC is 13-2-3 and has won seven straight when scoring first in 2013.
Sporting KC outshot the Columbus Crew 13-12 on Saturday. Sporting KC is 12-8-5 when outshooting their opponent this year.
Sporting KC is 9-0-2 and has nine straight wins when recording a shutout this season. Columbus has lost 12 straight when being held scoreless.
Sporting KC has held opponents to one goal or fewer in 24 of the team's 31 games this season.
Jimmy Nielsen is second in MLS with 11 shutouts in 2013 and is tied for the League lead with 15 victories.
Nielsen played his 88th complete consecutive regular season game on Saturday, tying Matt Reis' streak (2005-2008) for the second longest in MLS history.
Nielsen has played and started 125 regular season matches in his Sporting KC career, tying Tony Meola for most in club history.
Nielsen holds Sporting KC's all-time records for wins (55) and shutouts (43) by a goalkeeper.
Nielsen's 1.00 career goals against average is best in MLS history among goalkeepers with a minimum of 4,500 minutes played. He leads all eligible MLS goalkeepers with a 0.94 goals against average in 2013.
Jacob Peterson appeared in his 175th regular season MLS match on Saturday, second most among active KC players (behind only Paulo Nagamura).
Sporting KC has the best road record in MLS (7-5-3) and has conceded the fewest goals away from home among all 19 MLS teams, conceding only 14 goals in 15 matches on the road.
Peter Vermes .553 winning percentage is best among KC head coaches all-time.
Sporting KC is 15-10-12 in the month of October all-time.
Sporting KC is 12-6-4 against Eastern Conference opponents in 2013.
Dom Dwyer led all players with five shots on Saturday.
C.J. Sapong battled a Columbus Crew player in 19 aerial duels, most among all players on Saturday.
Prior to Saturday, the Crew had kept a clean sheet in four of their last five matches at home, letting in just one goal against the Seattle Sounders FC.
Claudio Bieler missed Saturday's match due to a groin strain suffered in training on Friday.
Oriol Rosell missed Saturday's match while serving a mandatory one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Sporting KC's next match is against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY MANAGER PETER VERMES
On limiting Crew opportunities:
We had a specific game plan going into the game and the guys were very efficient with how they played tonight. I would say the only flaw tonight - if I had to pick one - was that we gave up a few too many set pieces on our end. Outside of that I thought we were really good. If we were a little bit more clinical we probably would have caught them on the break two or three times. When someone would run a play and they would kick some balls off, we would run at them and could have been a little bit better in our decisions, but other than that it was an excellent performance for us.
On playoff atmosphere:
With the way everything is bunched up in both the East and West at the moment, all of these games coming down the stretch are playoff games. In a way it's good because everyone is having to keep their game up. So if you get into the playoffs you will be at that same level. For us, it was a good performance and a great result coming here because it is not an easy place to play.
On success on the road:
We have been pretty good on the road. It's been a big test for us and we got to continue our same ways.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY GOALKEEPER JIMMY NIELSEN
On Sporting Kansas City's defense:
I've got to give them a lot of credit. All 10 guys in front of me worked very hard and had huge discipline in the performance today. We know Columbus have very dangerous guys up front and we kind of wanted to avoid giving them any room to play in. I think we were pretty successful with that today. I think we did a hell of a good job.
On how his team defended set pieces:
We defended very well. We were quick back in positions, got organized very fast, and when you do that, very often you will win those headers. You will win those set pieces.
On whether it felt like a playoff atmosphere:
For some reason I've felt that for a while now. I think both divisions have been extremely tight. If you win a game you're in, if you lose you're out. So, it's been very exciting. As I said before the game to some of the reporters, this is the most exciting league in the world. There are probably still 12 teams with three games left that can win the championship. I know the playoff comes afterwards, but you don't see that anywhere else. That's pretty amazing and it's super exciting.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY DEFENDER IKE OPARA
On bouncing back with three big points:
After the loss last week, we wanted to try to get back with three points and we came in here and fought. Columbus played very well. We knew they would, pushing the game. We battled all game and we broke out with some good soccer movements and got a goal that we needed to get the win.
On key to shutting down the Columbus attack:
We just wanted to stay compact. We know they have some good players: Higuain, Arrieta, the young midfielders in the middle were very good at keeping the ball. For us it was all about being in the correct starting positions and if they did break us down at times being able to recover and just working all game.
On his goal and Crew defender Agustin Viana going down prior:
I don't know if I could fault a team if they did it against us. He was out of a dangerous area. I don't think the ball was near him when he was on the ground and I'm not even sure [Graham] Zusi knew he was on the ground before he crossed the ball in. It was just one of those that we won. I'm not sure how, it just kind of dribbled out and we somehow got to the second ball and we recycled our runs and just put in a good ball. It was tough, because I saw the goalie coming and I saw the post and I knew I had to hit the ball. I knew something may have happened but it was just one of those you've got to lay yourself out and whatever happens happens and luckily I scored without any implications of the post or a goalie collision.
COLUMBUS CREW INTERIM HEAD COACH BRIAN BLISS
On the club's offense tonight:
In the second half, we had the ball and they laid off a little bit as normally a team would do leading on the road, which led to a lot of our possession. We had very few answers: whether it was the final pass, the final dribble for somebody to step around somebody, maybe the run was off sides, whatever it was we came up short in having an answer in the final third. They're a good team, Peter [Vermes] has them organized and I'm sure he's watched us play and knows what our strengths are and the space in behind was very limited for our guys to get into and we couldn't execute a play and not because we were poor, I have to give Kansas City credit.
On [Federico] Higuain's play:
We saw something happen to him early in the first half, we shouted to him, he said he was fine, he'd take off in a sprint and cast any doubt away. We asked him again at halftime how was, he said I'm good to go but my guess is he was carrying something because he kept putting his hand to hip flexor/hip pointer, wherever and certainly something was hampering him. I'm not laying it on him but it wasn't his best outing, along with some of our other guys. Sometimes a best outing comes from another team negating what we do best.
On the Sporting Kansas City defense:
We just had to play the way we've been playing in the past. I don't want to say they were sitting in because I don't necessarily know if that was tactic from Peter but when they were conceding the midfield, up to midfield, it's tough to get in behind anybody, they're block of eight is pretty robust, it was pretty difficult to break them down.
On the upcoming matches:
I don't know the results of the other games off the top of my head, but obviously we know we need help somewhere along the line but we have to help ourselves. If we get six points I'm not even sure that does it, really I don't know because I don't know what the other results are. But we have to play like we're still in it and keep going at it we have to show improvement as a group for that set of eight games.
On keeping the team focused:
Everybody is going to motivate themselves in a different way, but if we're looking at the standings and there's a mathematical chance then there is no reason why you should throw in the towel. We won three in a row at one point, we've won four of six, we've won on the road, so there's a possibility. So mathematically if we're out of it that's a different story, but I don't think mathematically we're out of it but I'm sure we're going to need some help though.
On the team's effort and level of play:
I told the guys as we wrapped-up, I can't fault anyone for lack of effort. It was just good defense of Kansas City and us having a lack of ability to execute a play in the final third. Came close on a couple of restarts and that one that Ben [Speas] clipped into Bernardo [Anor] and he had to get himself turned around, it got deflected. So there were a couple of half chances that just didn't come our way.
COLUMBUS CREW MIDFIELDER DOMINIC ODURO
On what the Crew struggled with during the game:
I do not think we struggled. Like I said, the biggest was the goal that came off of the set piece. They are a good team defensively and that is exactly what they did. I did not see them try to go up the whole time because they knew that it could not be done with the offense we had. They relied on the experience they have defensively, and sat back and won the game. I thought we did everything right. We kept the ball really well, tried to go forward, but could not get anything out of it.
On the impact of the game going forward into the future:
It was positive, at the end of the day, but we have to go back to the drawing board, go back to the basics, see what we did right to win those games [referring to three-match winning streak coming into tonight's games], and do it again. New England is really beatable at the end of the day. We are a good team. We can make that happen. We have to give ourselves that chance. Hopefully the other games go the way we want them to go. We have to stay positive, focus on the next two games at hand.
On the team moral after this game:
We have to stay positive at the end of the day. There is nothing else we can do right now. The only thing that is there for us is to win the next two games. Like I said, hopefully we get some help from other teams. We just have to keep looking.
COLUMBUS CREW DEFENDER TYSON WAHL
On his overall thoughts on the goal allowed:
I think we let a sloppy goal in in the first half. Kind of a fluky think with one of our players was down and then they did a pretty good job of sitting back and defending pretty well. They were pretty organized. I thought we kept possession well; we just weren't able to penetrate and get more chances.
On the goal, whether he thought there should have been a whistle:
[Agustin] Viana and I, we challenged for the same ball and we hit heads. He was on the ground and then they kind of recycled through their runs and because we were a man down there was a man open.
On if Ike Opara collided with Agustin Viana before going on to score the goal:
On the first ball I challenged with Opara and Viana was behind me and we hit heads, and then after they made their runs again I shifted over because there was another man open that was more dangerous in the middle. My man Opara was on the far post with our man down on the ground.