MLS, you're on notice: Even if Sporting Kansas City looks like total, absolute crap for a good chunk of the game they are still capable of winning. In the 2013 MLS season opener, Sporting KC was roundly outplayed for the bulk of the first half, but still managed pull out a rather resounding 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.
Sporting KC has mostly Graham Zusi to thank. The rapidly rising midfielder scored the equalizer in the first half, scoring off a rebound that was totally against the run of play; followed that up with a perfectly placed free kick that set up Oriol Russell's go-ahead goal; and had the entry pass that set up Claudio Bieler's capper. Zusi easily could have had at least one more assist, too, but Matt Besler misplayed the free kick and ended handling it in the box.
Prior to Zusi taking over, the Union seemed to playing with the kind of fire rarely seen last season.
They absolutely dominated the first half as Sporting KC seemed to miss the midfield ball-winning abilities of Roger Espinoza far more than was possibly anticipated. While KC has become known for their constant pressure, the Union were able to turn that on its head and won 56 percent of the first-half duels as much of the match was played in Sporting's end.
Sebastien LeToux finally made all that domination count for something when he broke through with a 17th minute goal. Keon Daniel set up with a looping ball from the left wing that LeToux ably controlled and pushed past Jimmy Nielsen at the near post.
While the lead was nice, it really should have been more. A few minutes earlier, Gabriel Farfan missed a volley from inside the penalty area that he skied over the crossbar. Just four minutes after LeToux's goal, he had a golden chance for a second. LeToux got put through, had Nielsen beat but hit his shot well wide.
That proved to be costly, as KC was able to get into halftime tied when Zusi scored a goal completely against the run of play. Bobby Convey put in a 50/50 ball that 5-foot-8 Bieler was able to win. That fell right to Benny Feilhaber, whose initial shot was right at goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The rebound came right back to Zusi, though, who put his wide open chance into the top right corner.
After salvaging a first-half tie, Sporting KC looked like a completely different team in the second half. Their pressure was effective and won several free kicks in dangerous areas. That was more than enough opportunity for Zusi, who once again showed why he's widely considered one of the top players in MLS.