A Julius James own goal sparked Sporting Kansas City to a 2-1 victory against the Columbus Crew at Livestrong Sporting Park on Wednesday night in a match to determine the Eastern Conference front-runner.
Sporting (11-9-11) are now first in the Eastern Conference on 44 points, two ahead of the second place Houston Dynamo. The loss dropped the Crew (11-12-8) to third in the conference on 41 points, one point ahead of the Philadelphia Union and one behind the Houston Dynamo. Just six points separate the top six teams in the East.
Kei Kamara opened the scoring for Kansas City from the penalty spot after Chad Marshall took CJ Sapong down in the box after a quarter of an hour. Emilio Renteria evened matters half an hour into the game, but the Crew couldn’t overcome James’ own goal from a Matt Besler long throw.
As has become common at LSP, Sporting created the game’s first scoring chance, coming close to pulling ahead in the sixth minute when Graham Zusi’s free kick found its way to Omar Bravo at the back post. Zusi floated the ball toward the penalty spot, Aurelien Collin’ flick kept it moving and Bravo juggled once but drove his shot directly at Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer.
But Hesmer couldn’t do much about Kansas City’s next opportunity. Marshall took down Sapong clumsily in the box in the fourteenth minute, and Kamara stepped up to send Hesmer the wrong way and score his ninth goal of the season.
Down one early, Columbus didn’t back down. Andres Mendoza nearly brought the visitors level in the 18th minute when he found open space at the back stick, but he flubbed his shot and didn’t test Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The Crew weren’t done, though. They got their equalizer in the 34th minute when Robbie Rogers turned into space in the midfield and played a simple through ball to Renteria, who slammed his shot low and hard across Nielsen and inside the back post.
Sporting had one final chance to regain the lead before half time, but Besler couldn’t redirect Zusi’s free kick on frame, tipping the ball just over the crossbar acrobatically.
Neither team made a change at half, and Sporting started the second 45 minutes the same way they started the game. Chance Myers had Kansas City’s first real chance of the period, banging the ball off the right post following a deflection.
Rogers answered back for Columbus with a blistering shot that was blocked following a mazy run, and Kamara took a long distance shot of his own that forced Hesmer into a diving save.
Eventually, though, Sporting got an all-important second goal, capitalizing on a Besler long throw in the 74th minute that fell in a dangerous area. Kansas City wasn’t on the end of the throw, but James didn’t meet the ball cleanly, sending a looping header over Hesmer.
Columbus manager Robert Warzycha responded by sending on Jeff Cunningham and Tommy Heinemann for Rogers and Dilly Duka with 10 minutes remaining. It nearly paid off in the 85th minute when Heinemann’s dummy gave Mendoza a clear run on goal, but the Peruvian’s shot was into Nielsen’s gut.
Sporting killed the game off from there, putting the ball in the corners to run out the clock on their 11th victory of the season.
The Crew are now winless in six straight. They’re back in on Sunday afternoon when they host fellow East contenders D.C. United.
Sporting, meanwhile, travel to San Jose for a Saturday night contest.
SKC – Kei Kamara 9 (penalty kick) 15
CLB –Emilio Renteria 7 (Robbie Rogers 7) 34
SKC – Julius James (own goal) 74
CLB – Shaun Francis (caution; Reckless Tackle) 36
SKC – Matt Besler (caution; Reckless Foul) 42
SKC – Aurelien Collin (caution; Reckless Foul) 42
Columbus Crew – William Hesmer, Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Shaun Francis, Dilly Duka (Jeff Cunningham 84), Emmanuel Ekpo, Andres Mendoza, Kevin Burns, Robbie Rogers (Tommy Heinemann 83), Emilio Renteria (Justin Meram 71)
Substitutes Not Used: Andy Gruenebaum, Josh Gardner, Eric Gehrig, Cole Grossman
Sporting Kansas City – Jimmy Nielsen, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Chance Myers, Julio Cesar, Graham Zusi, Davy Arnaud (Lawrence Olum 77), C.J. Sapong, Omar Bravo (Michael Harrington 89), Kei Kamara
Substitutes Not Used: Eric Kronberg, Teal Bunbury, Soony Saad, Jeferson, Peterson Joseph
Referee: Hilario Grajeda
Referee's Assistants: Bill Dittmar, Paul Scott
4th Official: Chris Penso
Weather: Partly Cloudy and 83 degrees