Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes took a big swing with his starting lineup Wednesday night at the Seattle Sounders…
Six of his eleven starters had played sparingly so far this year and one – outside midfielder Michael Thomas – had never logged an MLS minute. The other five, Lawrence Olum, Peterson Joseph, Michael Harrington, Jacob Peterson and Soony Saad, had a couple of starts this year combined.
But with a packed schedule looming, including five games in the next 14 days and a cross-continental flight for Saturday’s contest in Philly, having the regulars at full strength going forward was crucial. So Vermes made a gutsy call, threw all his chips down and let them fall where they may.
When all was said and done, the gruff KC boss came out smelling like a rose.
This game was a high water mark for both the club and the coach.
It showed the quality of depth that Vermes has been able assemble and develop over the past couple years. And it marked a milestone for a club that has wanted nothing more than to establish a legitimate and lasting identity in Major League Soccer.
Wednesday night was the best sign of both thus far.
“(We) knew coming in here we were going to have to go deep into the roster,” he explained after the game. “I thought the guys that participated were fantastic, they took advantage of opportunities. At times we were a little disconnected in our buildup but outside of that the work ethic was great. They closed the game out, and they picked the right moments to go.”
And go they did. The boys came out trying to impress their coach, flying around with adrenaline fueled pressure that created a couple half chances in the first few minutes.
Their scrambling paid dividends in the 8th minute when a loose ball rebounded around Seattle’s box before Aurelien Collin finally slipped it back to the foot of Jacob Peterson. The fill-in winger hit the ball first time on the half volley and, taking advantage of a slight skip off a Seattle defender, dipped the ball into the far side netting to put Sporting up 1-0.
“We talked about silencing the crowd,” said Peterson of his early goal. “It’s a tough place to come and get points. However long they’ve been in the league, I don’t think I’ve gotten a point here.”
From there things just escalated.
Back and forth went the two sides, with the chances coming fast and furious. After winning a free kick in a dangerous area, Seattle defender Patrick Ianni leveled things up with a side volley that left KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen absolutely frozen in his tracks, and elicited the kind of call from KC play-by-play man Callum William that’s normally reserved for his employer’s tallies.
Ianni’s strike was clean and pure, and probably the MLS goal of the week.
Though a little ragged, the rag-tag KC lineup didn’t hang their heads or back off after Seattle scored. They still looked fresh and hungry, yet had the discipline to continue playing within Vermes’ system.
Surprisingly, KC took the field in the second half just as they had started the game, but after only a couple minutes Graham Zusi replaced Peterson Joseph. The Haitian played a decent first half displaying some speed and control, but his fitness seemed to catch up with him in round two. About 10 minutes after Zusi came on, Kei Kamara subbed in for Jacob Peterson.
It’s kind of nice when you can put in two of your most valuable players as subs in the second half with fresh legs, and with the score tied at 1-1. And still on the bench sat CJ Sapong, Julio Cesar and Seth Sinovic watching their backups take it to one of the best teams in the west.
Not for long, though.
In the 84th minute Vermes subbed in CJ Sapong, signaling that Sporting was going for the win rather than being content with just one point on the road, as most teams would be. And why wouldn’t he go for it after taking such a big risk with the starting lineup and finding his team tied with 10 minutes to go?
Unfortunately, the last 10 minutes didn’t see another KC goal, but instead saw Seattle bounce one off the post, then get a man red carded in added time after retaliating against Roger Espinoza with a scissor take-down from behind.
Clearly, no love was lost between these two sides as things got increasingly chippy as the final seconds ticked away.
In the end, Vermes’ gamble paid off big time, proving really for the first time that Sporting can now be considered a peer club of the MLS elite. This is no longer just a shiny new stadium "that you really need to experience" or a cheap way to entertain the kids’ soccer team.
If it never was before, this is now a legitimate pro sports franchise with roots, with a legit youth developmental system, quality coaches, and perhaps most importantly, a deep stable of quality players.
We’re no longer the underdog or underground…unfortunately. That was always kind of fun.