Sporting KC once again made Red Bull Arena their home as they rode an Aurelian Collin header to a 1-0 victory.
The French defender was a microcosm of Sporting KC’s performance. Collin smothered Henry through large parts of the match, frustrated the Red Bulls’ offensive rhythm and took advantage of some space in the box to beat Luis Robles to the top corner. That is all KC would need this evening to take over first place in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s a good team we played. Kansas City are a very good team – on both ends of the ball,” head coach Mike Petke said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. “
Sporting KC quickly gave the Red Bulls a reminder why they haven’t beaten their Western Rivals since 2011. After taking quick control of the possession game to start the match, KC earned a corner. Graham Zusi, who would go on to have a banner night, served a perfect cross to the near post finding Collin. The Frenchman road burly defender Jamison Olave towards the feed, beat him to the ball and headed home the opportunity for the games lone and deciding goal.
Juninho would try to find the seams to break open an air-tight Sporting KC defense throughout the first half. While his first attempt to send Fabian Espindola through was unsuccessful, his second feed gave New York their best chance of the half. The Argentine striker weaved his way through the defense, cut back on the ball, and sent a strike into the arms of Jimmy Nielsen.
That was about as dangerous as New York looked at the half. “I wasn’t happy with the first half,” Petke said. “I thought we were stepping too late to almost every play defensively and I thought we were trying to do way too much offensively when we were on the ball. “
The Red Bulls were forced to make an early change as Jamison Olave was pulled from the game with a left knee injury. Heath Pearce filled in the back and helped stabilize the line. While both Petke and Red Bull officials downplayed the severity of the injury, Thierry Henry expressed concern for him after the match.
Sporting KC would once again attempt to exert pressure on the home side to start the second, but New York would quickly turn the tables. Their best attempt of the half came off of a Roy Miller feed to Thierry Henry. The Costa Rican back, who enjoyed a standout performance, sent a perfectly placed ball behind Matt Besler but Henry’s shot went wide of Nielsen.
New York would get another close shot in the 85th minute. Juninho led the attack and sent a curler towards Nielsen who batted down the attempt and covered before a sliding Henry could threaten the play.
“Second half, I thought it was a good response,” Petke said. “We had some tired guys out there that fought till the end. We had some opportunities to go up (but) overall, it’s an uneasy feeling for me.”
Part of that uneasiness may stem from Juninho’s late game meltdown. The Brazilian playmaker ended a banner night on an ugly note. With tempers boiling over, Nielsen was slow to a dead ball in his area in extra time. Juninho jogged over to the ball and shot a screamer to the Danish keeper’s chest, sending Nielsen to the floor and earning him a red card for his actions. Barring any action by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, he will be unavailable for Saturday’s match against New England.
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating night for the Red Bulls who extend Nielsen’s shutout streak to 519 minutes and their own personal goalless streak against Sporting KC to 518 minutes.
They now look towards this weekends match against New England to stop the bleeding.