Sporting Kansas City used first-half goals from Roger Espinoza and Ike Opara to claim a 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center on Saturday night.
The result lifted Sporting Kansas City (8-4-6, 30 points) five points clear atop the Western Conference and gives manager Peter Vermes’ men their first road win against the Galaxy (6-6-4, 22 points) since 2010, snapping LA’s eight-game unbeaten streak in the process.
Espinoza scored a 30-yard belter halfway through the first period before Opara’s stunning bicycle kick gave Sporting Kansas City a two-goal cushion 10 minutes before the break.
Dave Romney would grab one back for LA in the 77th minute, but the Galaxy were unable to find an equalizer in the dying embers of an exciting, back-and-forth battle.
The visitors – fielding an unchanged lineup from last Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes – wasted no time creating danger, putting LA on the back foot within the first 60 seconds when Opara clipped a lovely ball over the top to Latif Blessing.
The Ghanaian rounded goalkeeper Clement Diop but Galaxy defender Nathan Smith got a foot to the ball. Dom Dwyer threatened with a pair of shot attempts shortly thereafter, first heading high off Benny Feilhaber’s cross before seeing a left-footed strike saved by Diop.
A reward for Sporting Kansas City’s early dominance came in the 22nd minute when Espinoza pulled the trigger from 30 yards, sending a strike straight at Diop. The goalkeeper erred on his attempt to parry, however, unable to prevent the thunderbolt from nestling into the back of the net.
Espinoza’s goal was his first of the season and the fifth of his MLS career, while Gerso recorded his first career MLS assist.
If Espinoza’s opener held an element of good fortune, there was no denying the excellence of Sporting Kansas City’s goal in the 35th minute.
In an advanced position following a cleared set piece, Opara latched onto Matt Besler’s floated ball into the penalty area and performed an inch-perfect bicycle kick to steer the ball just under the crossbar and double the lead.
With momentum on its side, Sporting Kansas City remained ambitious after the restart. A third goal nearly came in the 54th minute when Blessing and Gerso combined down the right flank before the latter’s cutback pass rolled behind the on-running Dwyer and was hammered high by Sinovic.
The Galaxy lacked no attacking intent of their own, but Melia made a pair of comfortable saves just before the hour mark to deny Romain Alessandrini and Emmanuel Boateng from long range.
In the 66th minute, Alessandrini’s curling cross was headed high and wide by Jose Villarreal. The sequence notably saw Feilhaber exit in the 61st minute after suffering an apparent foot injury on Smith’s crunching tackle.
Drama escalated in the 77th minute when the Galaxy cut its deficit in half. Alessandrini’s corner kick was headed on target by Villarreal, forcing Melia into a fantastic save as the goalkeeper palmed the ball onto the frame of the crossbar.
Romney was on hand to nod home the rebound, and although Melia got an extended mitt to the ball, the intervention wasn’t enough to prevent it from bouncing over the goal line.
Despite the setback, Sporting Kansas City held its collective nerve over the final quarter-hour to secure all three points.
Gerso nearly added an insurance goal on two occasions in second-half stoppage time, pinging a left-footed shot off the post before Diop saved a low effort on one of the final plays of the game.
Sporting Kansas City will conclude a three-game road swing by shifting gears into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where it will meet the Houston Dynamo in Wednesday’s Round of 16 clash at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. with a live stream on SportingKC.com. The Western Conference rivals will meet in the U.S. Open Cup for the third straight year and the fourth time overall.
Sporting KC earned a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over the Dynamo en route to the 2015 Open Cup championship before Houston exacted revenge with a 3-1 home win of its own in last season’s Round of 16.
– Story from Sporting KC