Sporting Kansas City is killing it. No, we don’t need to get into the whole "Sporting is the best pro team rght now in Kansas City" thing, because that undermines the legitmacy of MLS soccer.
Let’s just call it like it is. SKC are 6-0, have sold out 3 of 4 home games, and have allowed one goal this whole season- and that was off a set piece as a result of a horrible call from the ref.
This past Saturday’s game at LIVESTRONG against Real Salt Lake was one that most considered a likely preview of the MLS Cup Final. Fittingly, the atmosphere was electric, as everyone’s now come to expect.
When it was all said and done, Sporting Kansas City remained perfect at 6-0, though they did finally allow a shot on goal for the first time in 335 minutes.
"The header at the end was actually offside," commented KC boss Peter Vermes of RSL’s only "shot on goal" that came near the end of regulation. "They actually did not get a shot on goal."
Though the season is young, Sporting Kansas City of the Eastern Conference and Real Salt Lake of the West have both already established themselves as the class of the league, along with New York and Seattle.
When the game started the respect that both squads have for each other was apparent right off the bat, with some cagey play to begin while the two sides felt each other out. Sporting seemed content to just sit back and keep their shape, guarding against any initial rush that Salt Lake might bring.
The opening was so tentative in fact, that KC’s playmaker Graham Zusi had barely even touched the ball until about ten minutes in.
But KC started looking like their old selves around the 22nd minute mark, keeping the ball and knocking it around. They also began pressing a bit higher than they were at the beginning of the game- one of their trademarks- which seemed to open the game up for both teams.
Right before halftime, KC finally broke through off a classy headball from CJ Sapong.
Or so it seemed. After CJ rose and directed a lofting header into the opposite side netting, the ref immediately disallowed the goal for an alleged shove.
Replays showed that the Salt Lake player either tripped or took a dive, and Sapong barely even made contact. At halftime, boos rained down upon the ref, who up to that point had called a very consistent game.
Early on in the second half, KC was back on the front foot, though both teams were creating a little bit. Crazily, KC earned 9 corners in the first half, and 4 or 5 more in the first twenty minutes of the second half. Those kind of numbers are fairly unheard of.
And it was ultimately a corner that KC used in the 63rd minute to finally get on the board. Wild Frenchman Aurelien Collin rose up and connected at the far corner of the six-yard box virtually unmarked to bulge the back of the net right in front of a cheering Cauldron to put the boys in blue up 1-0.
Sporting nearly cashed in another corner 10 minutes later, but Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando made a fantastic sprawling save and punched the ball off the line.
After the ref blew the final whistle it was obvious the weight that the Sporting players and coaching staff felt with this game, fists pumping and hugs all around. Everyone lingered on the field longer than usual, which may have been what prompted one overzealous fan to jump the barrier and get taken down immediately by a couple cops, who threw the guy into the goal, tangling him in the net like a flopping fish.
Again, KC simply outworked their opponent and efforted themselves into a win.
"I don’t think that I’ve seen anything like that before in my life," said White Puma Jimmy NIelsen. "That’s credit to the whole organization and the team. Our defense starts with C.J., and if he’s in good position, he’s making the midfielders’ job easy. And if the midfielders’ job is easy, that makes the defenders’ job easy. And if the defense is in good position, it makes my job very, very easy."
And the defense has been golden so far.
"I’ll put us two up against anyone in the league right now," said Matt Besler of his partnership with fellow center defender Collin. "Our team is very confident, especially our back four. He’s been great all season."