HOW IT PLAYED OUT
It wasn't flashy by any means — and it's still awfully early in the season — but make no mistake about it: Sporting Kansas City just walked into one of the toughest venues in Major League Soccer, against the league's most prolific scoring team through six weeks, and worked the Portland Timbers.
Tidy and possession-oriented for 80 minutes, Sporting KC frustrated Portland, a team expecting to get the ball and get forward in a hurry, with a perfectly executed game-plan. Brilliance in the attack — a sequence from Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber and Jimmy Medranda shortly after halftime that provided the game-winner via Dom Dwyer's head — and the defense, with Tim Melia extending himself to deflect a long-range shot that was surely going in, Sporting sewed up the huge 1-0 victory.
Another three points. Another shutout. Another dynamic goal.
Sporting KC came in and executed across the field from the get-go, using spells of sustained possession throughout the first half to stifle a Timbers attack that entered the match leading the league in shots (82) and goals (16).
Portland didn't register a shot in the first half-hour on Saturday, as Sporting strung passes together from sideline to sideline. It wasn't enough to open up chances inside the box (see below), but the pace did enough to frustrate the home side and its fans, who witnessed the Timbers commit 11 first-half fouls while holding just 44 percent of possession.
That momentum carried over into the second half, where just eight minutes in Sporting KC found the back of the net. Working in the middle of the field, Feilhaber picked up his head and poked a ball into space on the left side of the box for Medranda. Rather than dribble into that space, which might've seemed more sensible and certainly simpler, Medranda anticipated Dwyer's run and hit a first-time cross to the striker, who beat his man to head it in.
Another brilliant piece of build-up and execution from the Sporting attack.
Tim Melia played the role of hero a half-hour later, getting — quite literally — his fingertips on a quality strike from Darlington Nagbe, destined for the back of the net, to push it onto the crossbar. He and the Sporting KC backlin... well, let's just say the entire 11... spent the final 10 minutes in emergency defending mode as the Timbers threw numbers forward in hopes of equalizing.
That moment never came, and Sporting jumped from below the red line (again, still early) all the way up to second in the Western Conference with 12 points... all the while allowing just two (!!!!) goals in six games.
MAN OF THE MATCH
It's time for co-man (men?) of the match to be handed out. Ilie was at his usual standard, which is very, very good, and was extra important on Saturday given the way Sporting KC hoped to string out possession and space. You can see that below. But a nod should also be given to Ike Opara, who's been healthy, which has come at the expense of opposing attackers. He gave Fernando Adi trouble all evening, anticipating long passes, and even pushing up the field to help retain possession.
GIF OF THE MATCH
What. Is. That?
Away against FC Dallas next Saturday at 7 p.m.