It was rough at times, and Sporting Kansas City had to scrap their way back from a 1-0 deficit.
But after besting the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of a sell-out crowd, that’s seven games in a row now that Peter Vermes’ boys came away with points at the end of the game. Which is currently the second longest unbeaten streak in MLS.
Yes, home field matters. It matters a helluva lot in MLS.
And although Sporting did concede the first goal of the game, it is still their defense that’s stepping up and providing consistent enough play to keep them in every game…
"Defensively, we were very solid tonight besides falling asleep on the set piece," said Vermes after the game.
The set piece Vermes referred to was Vancouver’s only goal of the night, which came in the 15th minute and started from a ball played in the box from about 45 yards out. As the SKC defense scrambled a bit to properly mark up, Vancouver played the ball in early and looked like they caught some Sporting players out of position, including Julio Cesar, who has been much maligned by critics this season.
Sure enough, Cesar’s man got his head to the ball, flicked it on, and found the back of the net.
More fuel for the Cesar fire? Probably. But Vermes isn’t buying in. After the game he praised Cesar.
"He’s been able to tactically play a role for us that would take away a strength in the other team and I thought tonight, for me, that he was close to being the best player on the field for us because of the way he played tactically. His decisions were excellent, he had great spacing in between the back line and the midfielders and he’s very calm."
It probably didn’t hurt that Cesar scored the game winner either, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Overall, SKC dominated possession in the first half. Chance Myers was flying up the right flank and he drew multiple dangerous free kicks. Graham Zusi continued his impressive play, acting more as a ball-winner and distributor than he has in the past few games. Matt Besler used his long throw in to create corner-like opportunities from anywhere within 30 yards of the end line. And CJ Sapong continues cause problems with his size and speed.
Add a little more shifty skill to CJ’s bag and he will be a beast.
In the 32nd minute SKC equalized when Sapong and Omar Bravo combined on a nice little give-and-go, which found Bravo about 10 yards out. He cut his man back and dragged his foot in the process – a veteran move designed to draw a foul. Sure enough, Vancouver defender Jay DeMerit made contact and Bravo went down.
This time, the ref called for a penalty, unlike the much lamented no-call from opening night. Bravo coolly buried the PK in the net, evening the score at 1-1.
And just a few minutes later, SKC would take the lead for good off a Zusi corner, reminiscent of the Aurelien Collin goal a few games ago. Zusi played the corner long, to the backside of the 6 yard box, where Bravo headed it back across the goal mouth to find a streaking Julio Cesar, who tapped it in to put SKC up 2-1.
The second half saw things deteriorate a bit, with some physical challenges and scrappy play from both sides. In the end, though, SKC held on for the win, and allowed Vancouver only three shots on goal.
"It was a solid performance," said keeper Jimmy Nielsen after the game. "We had a great first half, probably our best of the season. We did well defending and offensively as well, we were creating some good opportunities. There was a good flow in our game. To go a goal down and then respond so quickly, it shows we have the momentum right now. We’ve got the defense, we’ve got the belief."
Also of note: captain Davy Arnaud did not start the game, but did come off the bench with about 20 minutes to play. And he immediately fired up one of his signature 35 yard trickler shots that barely made it to the keeper. I have been a big critic of Arnaud, particularly early in the season, but, honestly, of late I think he’s been doing a bit better.
That said, I didn’t miss Arnaud in the lineup at all for the first 70 minutes.
SKC’s next game is on Tuesday, June 28th at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park against the Chicago Fire, as part of the US Open Cup.