Mar 17, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell (28) warms up before a match against Sporting Kansas City at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — It was an offensive showcase for Sporting Kansas City in a 3-2 win over San Jose.
Defender Graham Zusi provided perhaps the flashiest demonstration, with a rocket into the left corner for his first goal since 2016. Ilie Sanchez had already notched a penalty kick, and Felipe Gutierrez threw on decoration in the second half to give Sporting its third goal and the victory Saturday night.
“I thought the majority of the game our movement was fantastic,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “I think there was a couple moments here or there — it wasn’t just in the final third — there was a couple with a few minutes to go in the game, we dropped off a little bit. But I thought besides that, our ball possession was fantastic and I think our movement up front and the ability to find the correct pass, if you will, is really good, and it’s only going to get better over time.”
Questions linger for what was previously the league’s best defense.
Kansas City (2-1-0, 6 points) allowed two goals and defensively looked out-of-sorts on both. Valeri Qazaishvili’s equalizer in the first half came amid Kansas City disorganization in the box. Nick Lima organized for San Jose (1-1-0, 3 points) from the right side and sent a cross in, which Qazaishvili headed towards goal. Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia blocked the shot, but Quazaishvili easily converted the rebound with virtually no challenge.
And it was a mistake from Melia that partially contributed to the Earthquakes’ second goal: A ball had already been launched over the top of Sporting’s defense, and Melia left his line. Chris Wondolowski took a touch and sent a shot well over Melia’s shoulder to pull within 3-2.
But allowing a couple goals when you score three is a balance Vermes is OK with.
“There’s defending and obviously there’s attacking,” Vermes said. “And then there’s another piece, and that’s transition … It’s never going to be perfect, but sometimes you have to give up a little bit when you’re trying to score.”
And score they did. It was difficult for Sporting to top last week — an offensively thrilling 4-3 win over Chicago — but they came close.
Sanchez’s penalty kick was the first score, and it was textbook, sent straight into the bottom corner behind San Jose goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell.
But it was Zusi’s goal that got the announced crowd of 18,868 at Children’s Mercy Park particularly riled up. Flirting around the right side, Zusi coaxed the ball down the line of the box to the halfway point. The ball settled onto his left foot, and he launched it into the top left corner with just inches to spare.
“I think it was a culmination of a really good sequence,” he said. “I want to say Johnny made a run kind of outside that allowed me to take some space inside, and then we had two other really good runs … that opened up a huge lane.”
Gutierrez added the exclamation point, darting across open space near the box and finding the net. Brand new for Sporting this year, Gutierrez has been a crucial piece of the team’s constantly gelling offense.
“He can go both ways in the game, he can defend and he can also attack, and I think it also frees up Roger … I think that’s helped out a lot,” Vermes said of Gutierrez. “We’re creating stuff because of the quality of players we have on the field,” Vermes said. “I really believe it’s only going to get better with time.”