Vermes marks 100th career coaching win
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Jacob Peterson’s 50th minute header gave Sporting Kansas City an invaluable 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday afternoon at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Manager Peter Vermes claimed his 100th career coaching win in the MLS regular season as fourth-place Sporting Kansas City (10-10-4, 34 points) moved five points clear of seventh-place Portland (7-8-8, 29 points) in the Western Conference playoff race.
Facing the defending MLS Cup champions for the first time in 2016, Sporting Kansas City won their fifth consecutive match at Children’s Mercy Park and extended their regular season shutout streak against Portland to five games (482 minutes) dating back to 2014. Peterson’s third goal of the season, following a delightful free-kick delivery from Benny Feilhaber, was the difference maker in a rainy game played before a national television audience.
Vermes, who became the eighth coach in MLS history to reach 100 regular season wins, was forced to make two changes to the Sporting Kansas City lineup from last weekend’s 3-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC. Goalkeeper Tim Melia sustained a minor back injury in training on Saturday and was replaced by Alec Kann, who earned his first MLS appearance since April 27.
In attack, Connor Hallisey manned the left wing as Graham Zusi was sidelined with a pulled hamstring. Midfield mainstay Roger Espinoza started his 150th match for Sporting Kansas City in all competitions, while Feilhaber logged his 100th regular season start for the club.
Kann notched the first shutout and win of his MLS career on Sunday, making his lone save of the match in spectacular style. Lucas Melano picked out U.S. international Darlington Nagbe atop the box in the 11th minute, but the midfielder’s low drive was touched wide of the post by an outstretched Kann.
The hosts responded with their first clear opportunity in the 20th minute. Peterson powered down the left side and delivered a cross into the six-yard area that was cleared only as far as Feilhaber. The Sporting KC midfielder settled the ball and sent a left-footed blast squarely onto the crossbar, allowing Portland to survive their biggest scare of the first half.
Nagbe asked further questions of the Sporting KC defense three minutes after Feilhaber’s near-miss, rifling a deflected effort a yard beyond Kann’s righthand post. The Timbers would threaten once more before halftime, but Kann did wonderfully to race off his line and win the ball off Melano’s feet and extinguish a breakaway threat.
Sporting Kansas City grabbed the lead – and ultimately the win – five minutes into the second period. Feilhaber’s in-swinging free kick from the left flank was glanced into the far right corner of the net by Peterson, who has now scored in consecutive games for the first time in Sporting KC colors and the second time of his 11-year MLS career. Feilhaber tallied his fifth league assist on the play, entering a tie for the team lead with Saad Abdul-Salaam.
Having seized momentum, Sporting Kansas City kept its foot on the pedal and would nearly find a second goal on multiple occasions before the hour-mark. Dom Dwyer caught a half volley sweetly with his left foot in the 52nd minute, but Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson sprung to his left to turn the thunderous attempt wide.
Gleeson did phenomenally well to deny Lawrence Olum’s close-range header a minute later, sticking out a hand to keep his side within striking distance. He would produce another stunning save in the 60th minute, parrying Hallisey’s near-post belter over the bar.
After soaking up pressure in the early stages of the second half, Portland punched back with a golden chance in the 61st minute. Fanendo Adi received a through ball behind the Sporting Kansas City defense, but the Timbers’ target forward lashed his shot well over the bar from the right side of the penalty area. Caleb Porter’s men rued their luck again in the 69th minute when Diego Valeri’s free kick was headed inches wide of the far post by Melano.
A delicately poised final 10 minutes included clear-cut chances from both teams. Dwyer fed Hallisey on the breakaway in the 82nd minute, but his low strike was smothered by Gleeson. At the other end, second-half substitute Jack McInerney rattled the crossbar with a curling effort in the 91st minute, allowing Children’s Mercy Park to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The full whistle gave Sporting Kansas City back-to-back shutout wins for the first time since July 2015.
Sporting Kansas City and Portland meet again next Sunday to round out a pivotal home-and-away set. The rematch at Providence Park will kick off at 3 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes as Vermes’ men visit the site of the epic 2015 Western Conference Knockout Round game, a gripping 2-2 draw that ended with Portland winning an 11-round penalty kick shootout. Sporting KC has earne d three straight regular season shutouts at Providence Park and owns a 3-1-1 regular season record at the heralded venue.
– Story from Sporting KC