Another home game, another sold out crowd of over 18,000 at Sporting Park Saturday night against visiting DC United. That’s 19 in a row now, and it’s become the expectation rather than the exception.
But despite the raucous crowd, Sporting Kansas City struggled to find much of a rhythm early.
“They really clogged that middle,” explained KC boss Peter Vermes. “As I said, I think in the first half where we were slow was we weren’t circulating the ball fast enough to take advantage of the opportunities that were presenting themselves. If you’re on one side and you bring the ball back, now you can play in. We were going so slow that they were able to cover and we couldn’t play in.”
For the first 25 minutes, Sporting had the upper hand, but only slightly, and no really decent chances came as a result of it. Gone was the focus on attacking through the middle as they did in their best game of the season last week against the Montreal Impact.
Instead, everything seemed to revert back to the wing play and crosses that KC’s been so reliant on over the past few seasons.
And then in first half stoppage time, DC nearly notched the first goal of the match against the run of play. After turning Aurelien Collin around several times, Lionard Pajoy scuffed a point blank shot wide of the near post. And in fact, the crafty DC winger was the most dangerous player on the pitch the first half by far.
I’d love to know how many boots up the ass Vermes utilized during his halftime speech, but I have to believe it was more than one per player.
KC looked useless the first half as a whole, and I don’t think I can even point to a single KC player that showed up as they should have.
“At halftime, we talked a little bit about ball circulation and making sure they move the ball a little bit quicker,” said Vermes. “We needed to play more balls into Claudio (Bieler) direct which would break a lot of their lines quickly. Then we could get some chances off to him. I thought we started doing a pretty good job of that.”
The second half saw KC a bit more composed and focused, and it showed in the quality of their chances. Seth Sinovic got off a cracker of a shot. Benny Feilhaber had a 10 yard blast off some nice combo play. And Graham Zusi unleashed a 30 yard bomb.
But none of them were on frame.
As the minutes ticked by the frustration grew, and KC’s players and fans decided to take it out on the ref, who was rapidly losing control of the game.
Not another 0-0 draw, please god.
Vermes took an aggressive step to avoid that – in the 83rd minute he replaced a midfielder – Feilhaber – with an extra striker, Soony Saad. Then a minute later stopper Uri Rosell came out for the more offensive minded Peterson Joseph.
Vermes was all in on this one, and why shouldn’t he be? I would’ve been more disappointed if he hadn’t tried to shake things up a bit, which is what happened last season a fair amount, with unused subs remaining on the bench until the final whistle.
But Vermes’ double-down paid off in the 89th minute when Saad created a turnover deep in enemy territory, did well to tightrope the end line, and played a perfect layoff to Claudio Bieler who one-timed the 7-yarder into the far side netting.
The stadium exploded in blue confetti and relief. Sporting, it seemed, had finally figured out ways to win ugly games.
“I think a year ago we probably would have tied this game,” Vermes said. “This year, we win this game. That’s a good step in the right direction.”
With KC up 1-0 and only moments to play the boys in blue bunkered and cleared, anxious to hear the final whistle after a tough game that really could’ve gone either way.
As always, team captain and disgusting tongue-waggler Jimmy Nielsen said all the right things:
“The fans deserve all the credit. They are the key to encouraging us and they keep cheering until the very end of the game. I think the team, the fans got what they deserved tonight.”
**Photos by Alex Jinks**