Ika Opara’s goal in the 17th minute propelled Sporting Kansas City to a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Saturday night.
Kansas City has the best goals-against average in Major League Soccer, and prevented the Crew from attacking through the midfield. KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made his only save on Federico Higuain’s 30-yard free kick in the 77th minute. Nielsen recorded his 11th shutout of the season, and moved KC to within two points of the New York Red Bulls for first place in the Eastern Conference.
”All 10 guys worked very hard in front of me and had huge discipline in the performance today,” Nielsen said. ”We know Columbus has very dangerous guys up front. We wanted to avoid giving them any room to play in.”
Opara’s goal came on an injury to the Crew’s Agustin Viana. Viana was struck in the head while defending Opara on a corner kick, and fell to the turf as the Crew’s Tyson Wahl cleared a shot in front of goal. The ball ended up at the feet of Graham Zusi, who serviced it to the opposite post where Opara had an open shot on goal.
”I’m not sure Zusi even knew he was on the ground before he crossed the ball in,” Opara said. ”It was tough. I saw the goalie come in and I saw the post and I knew I had to head the ball.”
”We had very few answers whether it was a final pass, maybe the final dribble for somebody to step around somebody, maybe the run was offside,” Crew interim coach Brian Bliss said. ”Whatever it was, we came up short in having an answer in the final third.”
The Crew are 13-14-5 and stand just two points out of the final playoff spot in the East with two games left.