Sporting Kansas City notched a statement win in the Western Conference Saturday, with a 3-0 blowout over Portland. Here are three things we learned from the performance:
A full roster is, well, helpful
Kansas City manager Peter Vermes hasn’t exactly made it a secret that his roster’s health has been a struggle this season. Felipe Gutiérrez was out for weeks on end. Johnny Russell is easing himself back in. Backline anchors Matt Besler and Ike Opara missed matches. Roger Espinoza served a suspension. The list goes on, and includes nearly all of Sporting’s biggest names. But the chaos has settled for now. And Sporting has also added depth, in the form of Krisztián Németh.
The competition created by that depth is only helping propel Sporting forward.
“Competition breeds the best performance of most players,” Vermes said. “Because at the end, if you’re not doing the job, then someone else is there to help it along.”
This defense is getting back in its groove
Sporting’s defense – long the calling card for the franchise – has been a bit all over the map this season. Its allowed three or more goals in five matches. But it’s also settled in in recent weeks, finishing with its third straight clean sheet Saturday in as many games.
Despite the offense’s flashy play, Sporting’s defense was crucial for its 3-0 performance Saturday. Portland could manage only seven shots, including a solo attempt in the first half.
According to Vermes, the difference defensively has been not carelessly losing possession.
“Not losing the ball in really poor areas,” Vermes said. “I thought for a while there, when we weren’t getting the results we were kind of used to, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we just didn’t keep the ball, and our positional allocation on the field wasn’t the norm, but tonight it was pretty good.”
Vermes is taking Johnny Russell’s health seriously
In a matchup with a fellow top-four team in the Western Conference, no one would have been shocked if Vermes had fielded one of his best offensive weapons for a full 90 minutes. But Russell, coming off a knee injury, is taking it slow with a full return. He hasn’t had a real break from play in over a year, thanks to the timing of his European season and his entrance into Major League Soccer.
And despite Russell’s early success in MLS, no one is rushing him back. He didn’t enter Saturday’s match until the 69th minute.
Still, even in an abbreviated time on the field, he scored, setting Sporting’s final scoreline of 3-0.