Is Sporting Kansas City the best team in the MLS right now? Many knowledgeable observers think so.
KC is red hot right now, and they made history on Sunday with their 1-0 win at Chivas USA. Sporting moved to 4-0 on the season, the best start ever for the KC club.
Was it pretty? No, especially the first half that saw both teams engage in some physical play while creating few real chances.
But an away win is huge, no matter what it looks like and Chivas’ 0-3-1 record belies their talent, which includes speedy former KC winger Ryan Smith. Smith left Sporting early last season citing "family issues." In fact, the home side looked like the most dangerous team Sporting has faced yet this season, though luck wasn’t on their side as several near-chances missed the mark, including one off the post that should have been a goal.
In the second half the game changed dramatically for the better after workhorse CJ Sapong stuck in a gimme created by a Graham Zusi blast off the cross bar in the 47th minute. Zusi did well to keep with the play, rushing into position after the ball hit the woodwork and arced high into the air. Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy had an absolute nightmare as the ball floated in the air, getting caught in no man’s land and seeming to change his mind about whether to come out two or three times before finally retreating back on his line.
But Zusi played it perfectly as he held off a defender and headed the ball across the 6 yard box to a galloping Sapong, who practically ran it into the goal. The goal-scoring play showed off exactly what Sporting most wants to be, and maybe already are: a mix of athleticism, individual skill, and relentless grit.
Chivas defender Ante Jazic summed it up a bit differently. "A weak goal that we shouldn’t give up, we were caught in a bad turnover in the middle of the park," said Jazic. "We were caught sleeping at a backline when the ball hits the crossbar, just amateur basically."
That’s a bit harsh, but Jazic is correct in that the Chivas defense made a mess of things on that important play. And Sporting should be applauded for not giving up on a play many teams may have conceded to the keeper’s gloves.
But that’s what this team does.
Sporting blasted shot after shot at Kennedy, besting Chivas in attempts by an impressive 19-6 margin. KC’s 16 shots in the second half is the most by any MLS club this season thus far.
And speaking of numbers, string-puller Graham Zusi is leading the MLS in assists, with five in only four games. White Puma Jimmy Nielsen earned his 3rd shutout of the year, which is also tops in the league. And Sapong rebounded nicely after a ghost-like game against Dallas last week by becoming much more active and involved. The second year striker now has tallied 3 goals in just four games, good for fifth in MLS.
But don’t think for a second that KC coach Peter Vermes is buying into the hype. "It’s good to be 4-0, it’s better than to be 0-4 that’s for sure, but I think for us it’s really just maintaining the idea that we have thirty games left."
Starting with a whopper this Saturday at LIVESTRONG when Beckham and Landon roll into town for an afternoon showdown that will be KC’s biggest test of the season to date.
**photos by Harry Howe**