Sporting Kansas City (6-0) is the only undefeated team in MLS after six games. So why is Sporting so successful? The names that come to mind for the club’s success start with head coach Peter Vermes, then goal keeper Jimmy Nielsen, forwards Kai Kamara and C.J Sapong and midfielder Graham Zusi - none of whom are high-priced European imports with designated player status.
Former U.S. national team forward Vermes, a New Jersey product, has put together a group of players, mostly from U.S. colleges, that have responded well to him. Last Saturday night, the Eastern Conference leader racked up its six straight victory, a 1-0 win over Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake (5-2). The latest win was courtesy of Aurelien Collin’s second goal of the season in the 63rd-minute off a Graham Zusi assist, Zusi’s league-leading sixth.
To get to this point took stalwart defense, led by goalkeeper Nielsen, the league’s leading goal keeper. Nielsen leads MLS in most goal keeping categories: he is tied for first in minutes played (450) with Jon Busch of San Jose Earthquakes; his goals-against-average (.20) tops the league, making his defense the stingiest by allowing only one goal so far; and he leads MLS in shootouts (5). The stingy defense of Sporting Kansas City enjoyed an MLS record of 335 minutes without allowing a shot on goal, a credit to the four defenders in front of Nielsen, but that streak ended Saturday night when Nat Borcher managed a header in second-half stoppage time.
Although defense may be where it starts, a team has to produce goals to win. Sporting’s nine goals don’t make it the highest scoring team in MLS, an honor rested with the New York Red Bulls (16), but forwards Kamara and Sapong have been an efficient duo who has shared the bulk of the scoring. Each has two game-winning goals among each of their three goals so far.
The scoring duo is supported by strong midfield led by Zusi, the league’s assist leader. Among his six assists, three are of the game-winning kind. Zusi has taken a league-leading 17 corner kicks, a statistic that reflects his accurate passing and his team’s success in forcing the opponent into turnovers in their part of the field.
Vermes has created a productive environment with good chemistry. While Sporting Kansas City hasn’t had an outpouring of goals from its forwards, its defense has allowed only one goal against and this balance resulted in the club’s success. An old soccer adage is at play here: if you don’t allow goals, you can’t lose. Sporting Kansas City hasn’t lost.
Anything you can do, I can do better! Anytime you score, I can score also! This seems to be the theme that prevailed at Red Bull Arena last Saturday night when the New York Red Bulls (3-2-1) and the San Jose Earthquakes (4-1-1) battled to a 2-2 draw.
The Earthquakes played catch-up ball all night and came away with a point. The visitors fell behind twice in the contest and each time successfully rallied to tie the score. In the fifth minute, the Earthquake defense failed to mark Kenny Cooper, who waltz in from between two defenders to give the New York Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute with his seventh goal of the season, off a Thierry Henry pass. At the other end, San Jose‘s Rafael Baca equaled New York’s effort by equalizing in the ninth minute from an assist by Jamaican international Khari Stephenson.
Dax Mc Carty helped New York to forge ahead in the 22nd minute; the midfielder latched onto a short pass in the penalty area from Cooper, who flicked on Dane Richards’ cross after the speedy Jamaican international beat two Earthquake defenders on the right wing to make his cross. Again, the Earthquakes responded when Chris Wondolowski headed in Shea Salinas’ short cross from the left side to tie the game for the last time at the 35th minute; the goal was Wondolowski’s seventh on the season.
The second half was dominated by the Earthquakes midfield, but staying true to the theme of the day, it seemed as though it would take a Red Bulls score to facilitate one from the Earthquakes, and that didn’t happen. The Red Bulls return to Red Bull Arena on Saturday, April 28 to face Eastern Conference rival New England Revolution in a 3:30 PM contest.
It was like old time for the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday night as the defending champion got goals from its go-to players to halt a two-game losing streak. Landon Donovan and David Beckham teamed with Brazilian Juninho to score three goals for a 3-1 victory over the Portland Timbers, which lost its fourth straight game. Tied at 1-1 after goals by Donovan and Kris Boyd for Portland, Juninho came up with the winner in the 83rd minute and Beckham extended the lead just minutes after.
In other MLS games, the Philadelphia Union recorded its first win of the season by defeating the Columbus Crew, 1-0; DC United travelled to New England Revolution and came away with a surprising 2-1 victory against the rejuvenated Revs; the Seattle Sounders keeps rolling along and knocked off the Colorado Rapids, 1-0; Chivas USA topped hosts Toronto FC, 1-0; and hosts FC Dallas bettered the expansion Montreal Impact, 2-1. In the only games last Sunday, hosts Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo played to a 1-1 draw.
Hosts Costa Rica and Honduras played to a 1-1 draw in a friendly on Wednesday in the capital city of San Jose. The game was part of the teams’ preparation for the CONCACAF third round World Cup qualifying campaign which gets underway in early June.
David Suazo scored in the 25th minute to give Honduras the lead, but the home team recovered to tie the contest Olman Vargas tied the score for Costa Rica at the 50-minute mark. Suazo’s goal was his 17th international tally; Honduras is now unbeaten against Costa Rica in their last five games.