Mar 31, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon (14) heads the ball against Sporting KC midfielder Ilie Sanchez (6) during the second half at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — A couple weeks ago, Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes joked about not being able to make anyone happy. He’d received a couple of questions regarding the team’s defense after it uncharacteristically allowed nine goals in its first five matches. He lamented the fact that Sporting seemingly needed to score several goals and post a shutout every match to make fans happy and to keep reporters from asking the annoying questions.
SKC might not have scored a ton in its 1-0 win Saturday over D.C. United, but the franchise traditionally known for its defense finally got its long-awaited first shutout of the year.
“I think our decision-making was just at a higher level today all throughout the game,” Vermes said. “In those other games we just made some really poor decisions that you don’t make. … We just started getting into a place where we weren’t responding correctly to situations, but tonight I thought we were locked in. We knew when to step up, when to drop off, when to clear the ball, when to keep possession.”
Outside of the defensive third, it was keeping possession that also gave Sporting its first and only goal, three minutes into the match. Felipe Gutierrez found himself in a fight for the ball on the flank, and wrestled it back in time to send a cross into the box. That cross deflected off a DC United defender’s foot and into the goal, putting Kansas City on the scoreboard early. The goal was officially credited to Gutierrez despite the ricochet.
“The two biggest things I took from this game was Gutierrez continues to just be exceptional for us,” Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia said. “And I think this was our first complete performance, and by that, I don’t mean we were perfect 90 minutes. We got the goal we needed, we defended well, we defended as a group, and we won 1-0 at home.”
Saturday displayed an offense with more flash than Kansas City has traditionally been known for. There were backheels from Johnny Russell, long crosses over the top, and a myriad of almost-there chances. Sporting finished with 22 shots (five on goal). And they were on full-attack mode for most of the match, pushing hard for a second goal, even into the final seconds.
“Other than getting a second goal, I think we were great,” Vermes said.
“I think one of the things you’re seeing … there’s just a higher standard in the way that we’re playing at the moment than before, and I think that’s all over the field,” Vermes continued. “It’s early, and that’s good, and we still have a lot of work to do. I think we can be a lot better, but we’re getting there.”