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Drilling down on: at Sporting Kansas City 2, D.C. United 1

Chicago Fire v Sporting Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 29: Pavel Pardo #17 of Chicago Fire kicks the ball away from Graham Zusi #8 of Sporting Kansas City in the second half at Livestrong Sporting Park on June 29, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

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Man of the Match: Injuries and fixture congestion pulled Graham Zusi from his normal, advanced midfield role into Peter Vermes’ attacking three. Still, Sporting’s all-star managed to be involved in all of KC’s most dangerous moments. Zusi’s well-driven corner to the edge of the six-yard box allowed Teal Bunbury to give Kansas City the early lead. In the second, it was Zusi doing the scoring, hammering home a Kei Kamara cross for the game-winning goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Compensating for injuries (while giving the likes of C.J. Sapong and Julio Cesar some rest), Peter Vermes only had five starters in their preferred positions, and two of them were carrying injuries:

    • Aurelien Collin showed few ill effects of the orbital bone injury suffered during the All-Star Game, even taking (what looked like) a light forearm to the jaw from Bill Hamid in the second half.
    • Roger Espinoza, battling a shoulder problem, was slow to get up after going to ground with Andy Najar in the second half.
  • It’s not like D.C. was a picture of health, either. Most noticeably, they were without Dwayne De Rosario, out with his won shoulder problem. In his absence, Ben Olsen cycled through Branko Boskovic and Marcelo Saragosa in midfield. No surprise: Neither were able to fill DeRo’s boots. With Perry Kitchen having a quiet night, D.C. didn’t get much from their central midfield.
  • Out wide, United got more production. Andy Najar made their goal, beating multiple defenders to loop a ball in for Nick DeLeon at the left post. The rookie midfielder beat Michael Harrington to poke D.C.'s equalizer past Jimmy Nielsen.
  • The goal was one of the few times Nielsen had anything to do. Sporting seemed to dominate possession, mostly kicking the ball along the back, with D.C.'s forwards (Chris Pontius and Long Tan) providing almost no pressure. Sporting would push their fullbacks up, drop Michael Thomas into defense, and kick the ball along their three-man back until something (usually Kei Kamara coming back) opened up in attack.
  • Though the tactic helped KC dominate possession, it also conceded their advantage in midfield. With the teams’ formations (D.C.'s 4-4-2, KC’s 4-3-3), Sporting should have enjoyed an advantage in the middle of the park, but Thomas dropping into central defense in the attack phase meant the teams were two-on-two in the middle.
  • That dynamic made the game relatively predictable. D.C. wasn’t going to go get KC, and KC wasn’t going to force anything. Sporting was more than willing to wait for United to make a mistake, which they eventually did.
  • In the 62nd minute, Matt Besler spotted Kei Kamara on a run behind Chris Korb. D.C.'s right back wasn’t able get back in time to contest a cross for Zusi, who was abandoned at the right post.
  • Where was Mike Chabala, making his D.C. United debut? Zusi took enough time, Emiliano Dudar could have gotten involved. Instead, Zusi was given space to take a touch before driving the game-winner past Bill Hamid.
  • KC’s a difficult place to play, but given how this match developed, D.C. could have gotten a result. Sporting controlled this game with little resistance, given far too much time to put together the play that gave them the winning goal. A little more intensity, a little more pressure on KC, and United could have taken a point.