KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — C.J. Sapong scored the go-ahead goal off an assist from Kei Kamara, and Sporting Kansas City beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Wednesday night to win its second straight Eastern Conference regular-season title.
Antoine Hoppenot scored an equalizer early in the second half for the Union (10-17-6), but Sapong answered when Kamara found him open on the wing in the 82nd minute. Sapong’s shot past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath found the back of the net for his ninth goal of the year.
Jacob Peterson had the other goal after entering the game as a first-half injury substitute for Sporting KC (18-7-9), which needed only a draw to secure the conference title.
The victory pushed Sporting KC’s franchise-record point total to 63, six clear of second-place D.C. United, which has one game remaining in the regular season this weekend.
Sporting KC will carry a 12-match unbeaten streak into the two-leg conference semifinals, which start on the road Nov. 3 or 4 against an opponent yet to be determined. The return match is scheduled for Nov. 7 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Peterson came on as a substitute when Paulo Nagamura had to limp off with a sprained left ankle in the 33rd minute. He got his chance to make an impact in the 40th, when Sapong swung a pass to Kamara on the wing, and he pushed the ball ahead to Peterson the breakaway.
Peterson out-ran the Union’s Carlos Valdes to reach it first, and then ripped a shot just past the outstretched hands of MacMath to give Sporting KC a 1-0 lead.
It was Peterson’s career-high fourth goal of the year.
Sporting KC had a chance to add to its lead in the final minute of first-half stoppage time when Sapong set up Graham Zusi in front of the net. The U.S. national team member sent a shot at MacMath that he saved in self-defense, and then another on the rebound that he also saved.
The Union attacked early in the second half, and Matt Besler was called for a foul on Danny Cruz in the penalty area. Michael Farfan took the shot and Jimmy Nielsen made a sprawling save to his left before Hoppenot — a second-half substitute — drove home the rebound for the tying goal.
Hoppenot’s fourth of the year was only the 27th that Sporting KC allowed in 34 games this season, but it proved to be a costly one for Nielsen. The goalkeeper was less than a half away from matching Tony Meola’s MLS and club record with 16 shutouts set during the 2000 season.
That was the year Sporting KC won its only MLS Cup championship.
The club will begin pursuit of another title in a couple weeks, grateful it won’t have to worry about pesky Philadelphia. The Union pounded Sporting KC 4-0 on June 23, the only time outside an exhibition game against Montpellier-Herault SC that an opponent scored two or more goals.
Sporting KC rebounded to beat Philadelphia 2-0 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
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