That pesky zero in the standings’ second column was gone after Sporting Kansas City’s visit from San Jose. Winless after the season’s first two games and having been eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League, Peter Vermes’ attempt to balance competing demands had been an unsuccessful one. Against a team trying to recover from their own Champions League disappointment, however, the defending Major League Soccer champions were able to collect their first victory of the season. Sporting’s 1-0 win gives it four points through three rounds.
But with Don Dwyer’s second half penalty conversion providing Saturday’s only goal, Sporting KC is still without and open play goal this season. Shut out in Seattle two weeks ago, the team’s only goal head of Saturday’s match came from a corner kick against Dallas. Perhaps as telling, it wasn’t taking a series of highlight reel stops to keep them off the board. Sporting were just not generating that many good chances.
Things improved slightly on against San Jose. Graham Zusi tested Jon Busch early. Sal Zizzo nailed the post. Ike Opara missed a couple of golden chances. Particularly in the first half, Sporting looked like their former selves.
By the second half, though, chances had dried up, something that could be explained by Dwyer’s goal 12 minutes into the period. After Steven Lenhart was whistled for a handball in the box, the 23-year-old striker put home his third career goal, giving Sporting the option to taking a more defensive stance over the match’s last 33 minutes.
Given San Jose’s record of late theatrics, though, it was unclear Sporting was trying to sit on that lead. As the match became more physical (17 of the match’s 37 fouls came after the goal), it also slowed down. The teams combined for only five shots with none on goal over the match’s last half hour. Having played in Mexico mid-week, the teams seemed worn down. Kansas City may have benefitted from that slowed pace, but accounting for three of those shots (two in succession near the 67th minute), it’s unclear that was by design.
If that sounds wishy-washy and a little muddled, it’s because the picture surrounding Sporting’s attack is a little muddled right now. Still not playing their full team, Sporting has an obvious reason why things don’t appear to be clicking. But Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber were both in the lineup on Saturday. Dwyer and C.J. Sapong (off the bench) played. Seth Sinovic is back, even if Chance Myers is still missing from the other side. Enough of the parts are there. When Chris Wondolowski missed from closer range in the second half, Sporting was almost made to pay for those parts’ inability to produce.
And with over 61 percent of the ball over its last two games, Sporting’s had plenty of time to create. They just need to a better job in the final third. At some point, if quantity doesn’t lead to quality, they may need to work on sacrificing one for the other, should the problem persist.
For now, let’s wait until Peter Vermes can start a full strength team before passing judgment on Sporting Kansas City. Let’s just keep the conclusions from the first three games in the back of our mind. Sporting has had a problem generating chances, but it’s too early to say whether that problem will persist.