Sporting KC clinched their fourth straight playoff berth last night at Sporting Park as they beat the Chciago Fire 2-0. Sporing was led by goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum who recorded six saves and Graham Zusi who had a goal and an assist in the game.
The game started well for Sporting as they pressured the Fire early on and in the12th minute won a penalty kick. Benny Feilhaber did a god job keeping the ball under pressure on the left side of the field before playing the ball to Kevin Ellis who was right at the top of the box. Ellis played the ball back to Feilhaber who dribbled into the box. Feilhaber cut inside two defenders and was brought down by Lovel Palmer. Referee Kevin Stott immediately pointed to the spot. Dom Dwyer stepped up for Kansas City but skied his penalty kick over the bar as the score remained level. That seemed to be the shot in the arm that the Fire needed as they started to get further into the game. In the 21st minute Gruenebam was called upon for a big save. Alex jumped over a sliding challenge from Igor Juliao down the wing. The Brazilian played a cross into the box that Gruenebaum got a small punch on but not enough to get it cleared. The ball was headed back into the middle where Matt Besler beat Florent Sinama-Pongolle to the ball, his header though fell to Matt Watson who fired a shot on goal, but Gruenebaum had recovered and was able to make a diving save to push the ball away for a corner. In the 27th Gruenebaum was again called upon to make a good save. Harry Shipp did a good job switching the field to Quincy Amarikwa. The forward played the ball out wide to Watson who dribbled into the box. Watson laid the ball back to Amarikwa who fired a shot low to Gruenebaum's near post, but he got down well and knocked it out. Sporting almost had a goal of their own minutes later in the 30th. Dwyer got played in behind the Chicago back line. Out wide of goal near the end line he played the ball back to the top of the box where Feilhaber was racing onto the ball. He fired his shot on goal but Sean Johnson got down low and tipped the ball onto the post. The ball bounced back into Johnson's face and the Chicago keeper grabbed the ball. When the half time whistle blew, the Fire had actually looked the more dangerous of the two teams.
The second half saw Kansas City come out and reestablish their high pressure and controlled the game better. In the 58th KC almost struck on the counter. After Besler won the ball in KC's half of the field KC countered through Dwyer. The Englishman was out numbered but from outside the box cut inside and tried to curl a shot but just missed the post. KC had another good opportunity in the 75th. Besler cleared a ball up field in a challenge. The ball went towards Zusi who was racing into the box. Johnson raced off his line and beat Zusi to the ball, but the ball hit off Zusi and continued forward. With Johnson out of position Zusi tried to fire the ball in from a tight angle. Bakary Soumare though was there to clear the ball off the line. It looked like Kansas City would be headed towards another draw with the Fire when Zusi stepped up again in the 80th minute. Ellis and Juliao combined down the right before Ellis squared the ball into the middle for Zusi. Zusi ran at Logan Pause, who was marking Zusi, but a run by Paulo Nagamura also helped to pull Pause's intention. Zusi took another touch and fired a shot into the far corner of the goal to make it 1-0 Kansas City. Down a goal the Fire pushed forward but couldn't find themselves good chances. And in stoppage time Sporting found the best way to defend a one goal lead, score a second. Zusi did a good job down the right finding space against Soumare. Zusi got enough space to play a cross into the middle. Dwyer out jumped Palmer for the ball and headed the ball back towards the near post and into the net giving Kansas City a 2-0 lead. KC was able to kill the rest of the game and clinch their playoff berth.
Wizards Man of the Match - Andy Gruenebaum - The KC native did extremely well in net last night. After the missed PK by Dwyer, Gruenebaum did extremely well to keep Sporting in the game. He returned the faith that Peter Vermes showed in him starting him over Eric Kronberg.
Honorable mention - Graham Zusi
Player Ratings - Gruenebaum 8, Juliao 6, Besler 7, Ellis 7, Sinovic 6, Olum 6, Nagamura 6, Feilhaber 7, Zusi 8, Dwyer 6, Dovale 6. Subs Sapong 6, Lopez NR, Saad NR.