Sporting Kansas City currently sit in first place in the MLS Western Conference (12 points) race a single point ahead of their first opponent after the league restarts, Minnesota United (11 points). They are also second in the Supporter’s Shield race to the Columbus Crew SC (13 points). They got there with four wins and a loss, but there is more to the tale than the record, including the two games that didn’t count towards that total (0-1-1).
Let’s break it down game-by-game.
Game 1: 3-1 Win over Vancouver Whitecaps (Feb 29th)
Goals: Alan Pulido (17’), Jake Nerwinski (28’), Gadi Kinda (39’), Erik Hurtado (90+5’)
The game was on the road in Canada and it wasn’t as easy as the scoreline would make it look. SKC did hold a slight edge in possession (52-48) and shots (11-9) but trailed in shots on goal (4-5). Also, Vancouver is probably a pretty bad team so to see Graham Zusi get scorched down the end line on the pass that led to the equalizer from Nerwinski wasn’t great. Sporting did rally and add two goals, including Gadi Kinda’s stunner.
For a deeper look back at Week 1, check out our five observations from the game; including the start of Johnny Russell struggling on the left wing spot.
Game 2: 4-0 Win over Houston Dynamo (March 7th)
Goals: Pulido (16’), Roger Espinoza (26’), Kinda (65’), Khiry Shelton (77’)
This was a much stronger performance and it came in the home opener. Likely the only game where Children’s Mercy Park will be filled all season. Sporting dominated in shots (17-9), shots on goal (7-1) and possession (56-44). A bit of controversy was missed in the game though as Sporting’s opening goal was incorrectly missed for offside on Pulido. The game still had the right score though as Gerso Fernandes had a goal incorrectly taken away too.
The Dynamo have been abysmal in 2020 with just three points through five games (next to last just ahead of the LA Galaxy). Sporting will play them twice in the first six games back; Tuesday, August 25th at home and Saturday, September 5th in Houston. SKC should be favored in the home game and Houston in September is at least slightly less humid than August.
Game 3: 1-2 Loss to Minnesota United (July 12th)
Goals: Shelton (43’), Shelton own goal (90+2’), Kevin Molino (90+7’)
This was the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament and all was going well until the game started to shift in the second half. SKC had Minnesota on the back foot for much of the first half and were probably unlucky to get just a single goal. A Tim Melia red card in the 74th minute changed the game and Sporting never really recovered. Despite playing down a man for over 20 minutes, SKC still dominated possession (63-37), shots (13-9) and edged out shots on target (3-2).
Sporting had over 200 more passes than MNUFC as well. Sporting will have two games among their first six back against Minnesota too; Friday, August 21st at Minnesota and Sunday, September 13th back at CMP. For a deeper look into that first loss, we’ve got you covered.
Game 4: 3-2 Win over Colorado Rapids (July 17th)
Goals: Kellyn Acosta (6’), Shelton (65’), Pulido-PK (72’), Jonathan Lewis (84’), Zusi (90+1’)
What an ugly, weird game. Sporting KC were reeling from their extremely late loss to Minnesota United (their first time leading in stoppage time and ultimately losing in club history). They gave up an early goal to Colorado but then, with the help of two red cards from the Rapids, they battled back for the lead, gave it up and then got some aid from a bit of a lucky deflection for the win.
Not a game plan worth repeating but a win is a win. Backup goalkeeper Richard Sanchez gave up two more goals after giving up two in relief against Minnesota. Peter Vermes blamed this awkward performance, at least slightly, on the fact that the team had been quarantined due to their positive COVID-19 test earlier that week. For a deeper dive of that game, we’ve got you covered.
Colorado will get their chance at revenge in the altitude of Denver on Saturday, August 29th. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, that’s five rematches in the next six games. The only new opponent for SKC during Phase One of the restart is FC Dallas on Wednesday, September 2nd at home.
Game 5: 2-0 Win over Real Salt Lake (July 22nd)
Goals: Johnny Russell (1’), Gerso (86’)
The first real squad rotation of the season came in this game with Matt Besler and Gadi Kinda going to the bench for Graham Smith and Gianluca Busio respectively. On top of that, Sporting KC manager and sporting director Peter Vermes used his subs and did so early enough to make an impact. It was a formula that wouldn’t be repeated for the rest of the tournament, but will be desperately needed as SKC are going to play 18 games over around 11 weeks.
The game itself wasn’t as lopsided as it would appear. Sporting KC got a persistence goal in the first minute as numerous players got off blocked shots before Russell banged it home. RSL did play pretty well through much of the first half before they ran out of gas in the second. The win was well deserved and PV would be wise to look back at what worked so well.
RSL and Sporting won’t play again in Phase One but they likely will meet in at least one of the remaining 12 games of Phase Two of the restart. For a deeper look at the 2-0 win, Cody and I have that covered for you.
Technically, those are the only five games that count. Four wins and a loss that seemed heavily impacted by a red card. But things are far from perfect as the next two games (that don’t count towards the regular season) will show.
Bonus Game 1: 0-0 Draw with Vancouver Whitecaps [3-1 PK Win] (July 26th)
Shootout Goals: Pulido, Leonard Owusu, Ilie Sanchez, Gianluca Busio
This game was classic Sporting KC. Completely control the match. Dominant in nearly all categories. But forget to score any goals. Sporting out shot the Caps (37-8). They won possession (63-37), had nearly 200 more passes, tons of corners (12-4) and edged out shots on target (8-5). When you take 37 shots and only eight are on target, that is a huge part of the problem.
Third string goalkeeper Thomas “The Wall” Hasal played out of his mind to keep Sporting off the board. But Sporting also dumped in a lot of crosses that came to nothing since Vancouver was bunkered so deep. It obviously didn’t work and it’s a formula to frustrate Sporting’s offense since their best chance of scoring is either on counters or building up through intricate passing. Both of which are nullified with 10 men staying behind the ball.
In penalties, which won’t come up again until the MLS Cup Playoffs (if at all), Sporting looked great. Tim Melia is the man on penalty kicks and Pulido and Busio were clinical finishing their chances (Ilie Sanchez and Daniel Salloi not so much).
For a deeper look, Cody and I break this one down too.
Bonus Game 2: 3-1 Loss to Philadelphia Union (July 30th)
Goals: Jamiro Monteiro (24’), Sergio Santos (26’, 39’), Pulido (45+1’)
An ugly fifteen minutes of defensive lapses decided this game. It’s something that probably should be looked at deeper, but you guys get mad when I depress you with that information. The stats are all out of wack because Philly were sitting back and defending. SKC out shot them (16-7), put more shots on goal (7-3) [how depressing that Philly’s three SOG went in...] and out possessed them (58-42).
It’ll be interested to see how Vermes handles this game. If Besler got benched after Colorado, will Busio ever see the field after his halftime sub? Of course he probably will, but will he start? He’s going to need to with all this upcoming congestion on the schedule.