It looked like D.C. United were going to escape with a scoreless tie against Sporting Kansas City in the club's season-opener at RFK Stadium on Saturday night before 16,314 fans.
But in the final minute of regulation time, United's backline, which had been battered all night by a superior team, took its eye off the ball and allowed local product C.J. Sapong to sneak in a header off a corner from former Terp Graham Zusi. With the 1-0 loss, United began its 2012 campaign just as it left off last season in late October, losing by a lone goal to the mid-western club at RFK.
United were outshot by Kansas and had trouble all night containing Sporting's attacking-midfielder Kei Kamara.
Only the heroics of goalie Bill Hamid kept United in the game up till the 90th minute. But when the Manassas-born Sapong connected on Zusi's corner on the 6-yard line, Hamid was frozen on his goal line and could only hang his head in despair.
United coach Ben Olsen went into the game with his strongest side on paper, with newest signee Hamdi Salihi spearheading the offense. Salihi had a quiet debut, and it may take him to settle into the United's system.
There was a disjointed start to the game. Kansas City, which topped the Eastern Conference last year, looked the sharper and more settled team, with Kamara keeping United's backline busy. The Kansas defenders, well aware of his talents, set out to frustrate Dwayne De Rosario, United's captain and the league's reigning MVP. The Canadian ace was finding little room to get into the 18-yard-box, and the long passes from midfielder Branko Boskovic, back from torn ACL, were not finding their mark.
Kamara tested Hamid with a curling shot in the 35th minute, but the 20-yard effort sailed too high.
United finally found some life in the 40th minute when Chris Pontius, now recovered from a broken leg, found a gap in the Kansas defense and from the top of the 18-yard box let fly a low shot that went wide.
The best chance came on the stroke of halftime when Kamara out-jumped United defender Daniel Woolard and from a few yards out looked certain to score with a header. But Hamid made a fine stop with his feet to keep the game scoreless. Kamara injured Woolard in the process, crashing down on the defender as they both fell to the ground.
The second half started with Kansas again taking the upper hand.
United were lucky that Teal Bunbury fired his shot too high.
Kamara continued to cause trouble and forced Hamid to make another save in the 58th minute.
United winger Andy Najar, who was very quiet in the first half, started to make a number of dangerous runs on the right flank, but his passes were not finding targets.
Hamid again came up big in the 66th minute, stopping Roger Espinoza's long-range effort.
Hoping to add some firepower to his tepid offense, Olsen sent on striker Josh Wolff in the 67th minute to replace Boskovic. But again Kansas attacked, forcing Hamid to make big save to stop Zusi's shot.
Danny Cruz made his United debut replacing Pontius in the 73rd minute.
Olsen made his final substitution with 11 minutes on the clock replacing Salihi with another new signee, Maicon Santos, who tested Kansas goalie Jimmy Nielson with a free kick shortly after entering the field.
Then came Sapong's late goal, cancelling all of United's defensive efforts and once more exposing the club's problems at home, where it was 4-5-8 last season.
Next up for United is a tough road-trip to MLS champions, the Los Angeles Galaxy next Sunday.
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