Sporting KC going through growing pains, not full-blown struggles early in 2013 season

Thinking of hitting the panic button on Sporting KC already? Hold on; yellow card to you, sir or ma'am. - Jim Rogash

Sporting KC have 5 points from 4 games, which is a far cry from their start to the 2012 season, but certain positive signs have surfaced in recent weeks, indicating better days are soon ahead.

Sporting Kansas City dropped two more points on Saturday, this time to New England Revolution, in the club's second consecutive 0-0 draw. We've come to accept such results when playing at home due to the defensive mindset opponents take at Sporting Park - as in last week's home opener against Chicago Fire - but Sporting KC were an historically successful road team in 2012 when they won 8 times away from home and drew 5 more (27 points - close to half the club's eventual total of 63).

So, given Sporting KC's total of 5 points from the first 4 games of the 2013 season, is it time to become genuinely worried about the club's season-long prospects? After all, they started 2012 going 21 out of 21 points the first 7 games.

To be short and concise, not even close.

For starters, it has been over two-and-a-half games since Sporting KC conceded a goal, period (21st minute against Toronto FC, three games ago). Granted Chicago didn't exactly set out from the opening whistle to break the scoreboard, but limiting the Fire to just 1 shot on goal and the Revs to 0, in back to back weeks, signifies a "getting back to who we are" mentality from Sporting KC. Sporting conceded less than a goal a game last year, and with two straight shutouts, they're back below 1.00 goal conceded per game again this year.

Saturday's shutout against New England also came without 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, Matt Besler, in the gameday lineup. He will return this Saturday against Montreal Impact. Sporting have also been without MLS First XI candidate Chance Myers, a quad strain keeping him out, in the two previous weeks' games.

And that 7-game undefeated start in 2012 - what did that amount to in the end? Only to the season coming down to its very last day in October, with Sporting needing to win their final game to clinch first place in the Eastern Conference. After such a start, nothing was a given in the end. And the club that won MLS Cup? The LA Galaxy lost 8 of their first 13 games before catching serious fire in the second half, grabbing a lower-seeded playoff spot and winning back to back Cups.

Sporting will surely have more than the 11 points Los Angeles had from their first 13 games.

How about the other side of the field, though? If there's a bit of 2013's early days that are slightly troublesome, it's that whole 'not scoring goals' bit that Sporting have going on. Claudio Bieler scored in each of his first two games with the club (2 goals in 4 games), so it's difficult to say he's not doing his bit with a goal every other game average. CJ Sapong has yet to score in 2013, but he's been pushed wide left and right to accommodate Bieler.

What it ultimately comes down to, though, is the creation of enough quality chances, and that onus falls upon two Sporting men - Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber. Zusi was away with Besler on Saturday in New England, but was kept quiet against Toronto and Chicago after a storming performance against Philadelphia Union on First Kick weekend. Feilhaber has yet to have that one game that jumpstarts his Sporting career, but has show flashes - albeit too few and far in between - of the player he will be once he acclimates to a new team and a new system.

Sporting KC got off a combined 33 shots in the 0-0 draws with Chicago and New England (20 and 13, respectively), but a grand total of 5 were put on goal and made the goalkeeper work. That's not blame for a forward, but for the players presenting the opportunities to the forwards, and a clear sign an improvement in form is needed.

The next month will be a huge testing period for Sporting KC, though, with five straight games against Montreal, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles and Portland Timbers. Those are five clubs either near the top of the respective conferences, or mightily underperforming against expectations and could use a game against the mighty Sporting KC to sound intend to rectify their season.

Hold off on that panic button just yet; give Peter Vermes and Co. a bit more time to fit those puzzle pieces together, because when he does, it could be an impressive sight to see.

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