Dom Dwyer’s 53rd-minute header propelled Sporting Kansas City to a resolute 1-0 victory over the first-place Portland Timbers on Saturday night at Providence Park in Portland.
The result lifts unbeaten Sporting Kansas City (3-0-3, 12 points) to second place in the Western Conference, one point behind Portland (4-2-1, 13 points) and one point ahead of FC Dallas, the only other remaining MLS team without a defeat in 2017.
In a battle featuring Major League Soccer’s most prolific offense against its stingiest defense, the latter reigned supreme as Sporting Kansas City equaled a club record with its fourth straight road shutout in the regular season and snapped Portland’s 21-game home scoring streak.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia made three saves en route to his league-leading fourth clean sheet while lowering his goals against average to a gaudy 0.33.
The stage is now set for a matchup next Saturday at 7 p.m. as Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas (3-0-2, 11 points) put their unbeaten records on the line at Toyota Stadium. The sides have already met once in 2017, settling for a scoreless draw on March 11 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Coaching his 300th match for Sporting Kansas City in all competitions, manager Peter Vermes reinserted Benny Feilhaber into the starting lineup following the midfielder’s two-game absence with a thigh strain. Like Vermes, the club’s two longest tenured players reached major milestones, as captain Matt Besler made his 200th regular season start and Graham Zusi logged his 200th regular season appearance.
A positive start from Sporting Kansas City involved speculative long-range efforts from Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber, though neither tested Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Proceedings turned chippy upon the half-hour mark – Ike Opara receiving a yellow card in the process – and the Timbers finally carved out their first chance in the 33rd minute when forward Fanendo Adi skied a shot over the bar following a clever cutback from Diego Valeri.
Sporting Kansas City’s best opportunity before intermission came in the 38th minute when Ilie rose above the rest to nod Feilhaber’s corner kick narrowly over the crossbar. A minute later, Dwyer found a pocket of space and saw his 22-yard strike saved by Gleeson.
The match-winning goal was the product of an incisive, free-flowing move eight minutes into the second half. Feilhaber received a pass from Espinoza 35 yards from goal, feigned a defender and spread the ball to Jimmy Medranda on the left side of the penalty area.
The Colombian promptly swung a cross to the edge of the six-yard box for Dwyer to head low into the right corner. It was the Englishman’s second goal in as many games and Medranda’s third career assist, giving Sporting Kansas City a precious lead to protect against a Portland side that had bagged 16 goals in its first six matches.
With momentum fully seized, Vermes’ men could have doubled their advantage in the 55th minute. Medranda’s perfectly weighted through ball was controlled by Dwyer, whose low cutback pass was steered wide by an open Feilhaber from 15 yards. Gerso threatened shortly thereafter, dispossessing Roy Miller along the endline before rifling a shot that was saved by Gleeson’s outstretched foot.
Gleeson was called into action yet again in the 65th minute when he fumbled Dwyer’s dipping free kick and reacted quickly to smother Gerso’ rebound attempt.
Frustration began to set in for the hosts as Sebastian Blanco fired high and wide after finding space to shoot atop the box in the 75th minute. Three minutes later, substitute Darren Mattocks’ low drive from a tight angle was blocked by the onrushing Melia.
The second defining moment of the match unfolded in the 79th minute when U.S. international Darlington Nagbe unleashed a thunderous volley that appeared to be destined for the back of the net.
But Melia dove at full extension to produce a stunning, finger-tip save to redirect the ball onto the frame of the crossbar and keep Portland scoreless. The stop proved pivotal as Sporting Kansas City would see out their 1-0 lead to the final whistle.
– Story from Sporting KC