Major League Soccer champions Sporting Kansas City suffered a blow on Friday night, after a 1-1 home draw with the Philadelphia Union dented their title defence.
Graham Zusi had opened the scoring for the Wizards, who were able to extend their unbeaten run to eight games, but division newcomer Brian Brown stole back parity.
The Union are the only visiting team to taste victory at Sporting Park in the league in 2014, and having won on their last two trips to Kansas, they threatened to make it three-in-a-row never for long spells.
It was Dom Dwyer who had the game’s first chance though, as his looping header was expertly flicked away from the top corner by Zolos captain Brian Carroll.
Then, in the 23rd minute, a series of chances saw Sporting continue their assault on the away goal. Zusi dragged a shot wide, before Zac MacMath leapt at Dwyer’s feet, parried from Toni Dovale and held Mikey Lopez’s drive.
The 22-year-old stopper was starting the match despite a seemingly uncertain future following the signing of Rais M’Bolhi – a move that has been much-maligned in the media, with SuperDraft first pick Andre Blake also on the roster.
Just about holding on up to this point, Philadelphia finally managed their first effort five minutes before half-time. Danny Cruz was illegally upended by Aurelien Collin, and after halting a wasted advantage, referee Jair Marrufo awarded a free-kick in an enticing position. Vincent Noguiera applied beautiful whip to the set-piece, but Andy Gruenebaum acrobatically dived to beat the ball away.
This allowed Kansas City to again come forward, and though his delicate situation appeared to have affected MacMath’s confidence, he blocked another Lopez attempt. This stop was then quickly replicated at the other end, when Sheanon Williams hit at the goalkeeper in a Union break.
Gruenebaum has served as the Wizards’ second-choice custodian since returning to his hometown last year, but has proved himself to be a more than able deputy in Eric Kronberg’s recent absence. His fine form continued beyond the interval here, diverting Carroll’s low finish after he’d been set away by Cruz’s magical footwork.
Gaddis Fails, Zusi Doesn't
But for all of the hard work from Jim Curtin’s men, they fell behind in the 54th minute. Raymon Gaddis failed to deal with a long diagonal, and Zusi took the loose ball from Toni, before slotting beyond MacMath.
The World Cup winger almost added to his tally immediately, but instead grazed the far post, having exchanged passes with Dwyer.
Philadelphia have been free-scoring of late – they last drew a blank on May 10, and have hit the net 23 times in the ten subsequent matches – meaning there was little surprise when they mustered an equaliser.
Brown Breaking his Duck
Conor Casey’s nod had earlier been claimed by Gruenebaum, but the 31-year-old could do little to prevent the giant striker’s replacement Brown from diverting Gaddis’ cross into the net. This was the Jamaican’s first MLS goal in just his second match, and offered redemption for the creator.
An open final period saw Jacob Peterson and Sebastien Le Toux denied at either end, but the best opportunity was reserved for Dwyer, who somehow turned Igor Juliao’s grounded centre over the cross-bar from point-blank range.
Gruenebaum’s work wasn’t yet done for the evening though, gratefully placing two hands on the ball after a messy stoppage-time goal-mouth scramble. More shots were blocked as the Union hoped to snatch a winner, but the hosts were saved further embarrassment by Marrufo’s whistle.