KANSAS CITY, Kan. — From the outset, C.J. Sapong’s scoring drought seemed destined to end.
He was a monster in the first half and already had set a career high with eight shots on goal when second-half stoppage time arrived — and a potentially crippling loss to the Houston Dynamo seemed inevitable Friday for Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park.
It took until the 93rd minute, but Sapong finally had a meal again – his celebration “always watin’, always hungry” hadn’t been seen in the last 12 league appearances – but the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year delivered a 1-1 draw and salvaged an important point for Sporting KC.
Slumping Houston, which was 1-2-2 in its last five league contests, grabbed the lead on the strength of Brad Davis’ 58th-minute goal.
Despite a franchise-best 28 shots, it looked as if that would be enough for the Dynamo before Sapong’s breakthrough.
It took all of 16 seconds for Sporting KC to threaten for a goal.
Forward C.J. Sapong got free in the box immediately after kickoff, but mistimed a swinging right-footed volley on a ball looped over his head.
But Sporting KC, which outshot Houston 10-2 and owned better than 60 percent of the possession before halftime, was relentless early.
During the fifth minute, fellow forward Kei Kamara beat Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall to a free ball just inside the penalty area on the right side.
After drawing Hall closer, Kamara played a ball back to the top of the box for midfielder Graham Zusi, who tried to chip into a goalkeeper-less net, but defender Bobby Boswell kicked the ball clear at the goal line.
Fifteen minutes later, Kamara climbed the ladder for high, lofted cross from defender Aurelien Collin, winning a 50/50 ball and sending Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie sprawling.
But Sapong’s subsequent shot was deflected wide of goal for a corner kick.
Sapong, who tried a side-saddle bicycle on Zusi’s ensuing corner kick, one of five in the first half for Sporting KC, but couldn’t get on top of the shot, which sailed well into the Cauldron.
During the 33rd minute, off a cross from center back Matt Besler, Sapong whistled a header that Hall saved in spectacular fashion with a dive to his right.
Conversely, aside from an early free kick by Dynamo captain Brad Davis, Houston’s attack produced nothing threatening until the 42nd minute when Corey Ashe slipped a through ball into the Sporting KC penalty area.
With the back line slow to step up (or the assistant referee skittish to raise the flag), Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji were in free on goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Bruin, who leads the Dynamo with 11 goals this season, rifled a right-footed blast, but Nielsen gobbled it up with a dive to his left, preserving the 0-0 score line going into halftime.
Bruin also got the first chance after halftime, but couldn’t beat Nielsen in the 49th minute either.
Initially, the sequence that led to Davis’ goal seemed relatively innocuous.
Dynamo forward Boniek Garcia ran out of room in the Sporting KC penalty and laid off to Davis seemingly in an effort to reset the attack.
Instead, Davis saw daylight and skipped a low, hard shot through traffic from 22 yards out along the left side. The ball scooted under a diving Nielsen and tucked into the side netting at the right post as the 19,877 Sporting KC fans in attendance – the 13th straight sellout.
The next eight minutes were a constant assault on Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall, but he proved impenetrable in recording his league-best 12th shutout of the season.
It started in earnest in the 61st minute when midfielder Graham Zusi – fresh off an impressive performance Monday with the U.S. men’s national team in a 1-0 win against Jamaica in FIFA World Cup qualifying – blew a breakaway chance when he struggled to control the tumbling ball, which allowed ample time for the Dynamo defense to recover and thwart the counterattack.
Sporting KC followed with a series of corner kicks and restarts, the first after Kamara won a corner and had a brief skirmish with Houston defender Corey Ashe after a 62nd-minute collision in the penalty box.
The sequence ended with Zusi missing Kamara’s head by inches on a restart a minute later before Houston regained its composure.