Kansas City, Kansas — It may have taken about three-quarters of the season, but it’s all starting to click in Kansas City. It’s like when you haven’t been able to finish a jigsaw for six months, then you find the missing piece between the seats of the sofa. You finally click the last piece into place, and suddenly it all makes sense. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s Sporting Kansas City.
And that final puzzle piece seems to have clicked into place for Kansas City, who defeated the Houston Dynamo 1-0 on Saturday. A 12th-minute goal from Johnny Russel was the difference maker as Sporting recorded its third-straight win.
Sporting KC click into place at the right time
At times it’s looked grim for Kansas City this season. It’s conceded late goals, the defense has been a mess, the forward’s can’t buy a goal. But it looks like Peter Vermes has finally made it all click, and that was on display on Saturday night against Houston.
The team had swagger. They dominated in possession, finishing the game with 62.5% of the ball. But perhaps most importantly, aside from a late scare when a Christian Ramirez goal was ruled offside, it was an extremely solid showing.
Sporting got the ball rolling in the 12th minute after a beautiful sequence of play saw Russell head home. An arching ball to the back post from Felipe Gutierrez allowed marauding center back Graham Smith to loop the ball back over Houston keeper Joe Willis to an open Russell at the back post. From there, the Scot did what he does best: score goals.
— Sporting KC (@SportingKC) September 1, 2019
Following the goal, Kansas City continued to apply the pressure, moving the ball effectively from front to the back. One sequence of play including seven quick places around the box would have resulted in the goal of the week if Daniel Salloi had not sent the ball over the bar from two yards out.
The team is clicking at the right time. Graham Smith has emerged as the best partner for Matt Besler. Luis Martin is showing both great attacking and defensive prowess down the left wing. And perhaps most importantly, most of the team is now healthy. Gone are the days of Vermes producing a bench with only four players on it.
The longest-tenured coach in MLS has been saying for a while he’s been waiting for his team to click, and it seems like we’re finally there.
Luis Martins’ coming out party
Peter Vermes has been saying for a couple of games now that Luis Martins wasn’t at full fitness. He’s been playing, yes, but his full capabilities hadn’t been revealed yet. But that changed on Saturday night.
From the first whistle, Martins was marauding down the left wing, playing much more advanced than he has prior since arriving in Kansas City. At times, I wasn’t sure whether I was watching Luis Martins or Andy Robertson.
“He’s made a step forward in every game, and he’s continued to improve,” Besler said. “Made the defensive plays he’s needed to, and also picked the right moments when to get involved in the attack. For him, it’s a good sign and hopefully, he can continue to keep it going.”
Master vs. Apprentice
Davy Arnaud played 240 games for Sporting Kansas City between 2002 and 2011. He was Peter Vermes’ captain for two seasons in 2010 and 2011. And he finally returned to Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday, but in the opposition dugout. The former SKC man was named interim head coach of Houston on Aug. 16 following the firing of Wilmer Cabrera, meaning less than two weeks later he had to face his former head coach in Peter Vermes.
“I was amazed at how much he was yelling at the referees,” Vermes joked after the game.
“To start the second half, he wasn’t going to sit back. He pushed his guys out to go and press and go after the game, but that’s also his nature,” he continued. “I think it’s always important for a coach to play to yourself, play to who you are and you can see that coming out in him. It was good for him. It’s interesting because I always thought Davy would be a coach one day, for sure.”
MLS’s St. Louis Blues?
Ok, I’ll admit it: I was wrong. Following Sporting’s 1-0 loss to Orlando two weeks ago, I said that Sporting had waved goodbye to its playoff hopes. But three wins on the trot since then has given Kansas City a glimmer of hope. The potential late playoff run is somewhat reminiscent to the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup run.
Peter Vermes’ men were briefly bottom of the standings in late June – just like the St. Louis Blues were at one point. Sporting is now rattling off consecutive wins late in the season – just like St. Louis. The Blues squeezed into the playoffs, finishing third in their division. Sporting KC will sit a maximum of seven points behind second place after this weekend, dependent on other results. They’re even less points behind the final playoff spots.
SKC has a long road ahead of them — even if it’s just six games — but if results go their way, Vermes’ men could be in for a Blues-esque end to the season.