Sporting Kansas City’s first true road swing of the year will present the usual challenges: travel, short turnaround times, hostile crowds and the like. Compared to what they went through last year though, it’s a cakewalk.
Going into their seventh game of 2011, Sporting were 1-4-1, hadn’t played at home yet, and after that 4-1 shelling by the Los Angeles Galaxay, they still had three more away dates before LIVESTRONG Sporting Park finally opened.
Sporting surged from that 1-6-3 road start to the Eastern Conference’s regular-season championship, and are off to a club-record 6-0-0 start this year. While the players are quick to remind everyone that last year was, well, last year. They also recognize that those adverse times toughened the young squad.
“We learned from a lot of things last year. It was kind of a weird season,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen told MLSsoccer.com. “I think we came out strong from last season, and we’ve started very strong this season.”
The only thing Sporting haven’t done yet – besides lose – is play two straight away dates without a return home in between. But after facing Vancouver on Wednesday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they will head down the coast for a Saturday meeting with Portland.
“I think we’re kind of used to this kind of event that we have coming up here,” manager Peter Vermes said after Saturday’s 1-0 home win over Real Salt Lake. “I think we’ll be concentrating, focused and ready to play.”
Vancouver started 2-0-0 and were unbeaten after four matches, but after losing 3-1 at resurgent San Jose, the Whitecaps are winless in their last three and sitting third from the bottom in the Western Conference.
Still, Nielsen said, KC can’t take Wednesday’s opponent lightly, especially after the Whitecaps’ 3-0 preseason win over a reserve-heavy Sporting side.
“I know it’s two different things,” said the veteran ’keeper, who did not play in that match. “But we saw they're a good team, if we allow them to be a good team.”
Sporting haven’t allowed anybody to be good yet this year, though. They have outscored opponents 9-1, haven’t conceded a tying goal after taking a lead, and put together a league-record streak of 335 minutes without allowing a shot on goal before Nat Borchers’ harmless stoppage-time header in the RSL match.
That’s a far cry from the early-2011 squad, which blew a 3-0 lead – giving up two goals in second-half stoppage time – in a 3-3 away draw to the Whitecaps last April.
“We’ve learned a lot from a lot of situations that occurred last year, and this year as well,” Vermes said. “It’s just about us continually getting better from the mistakes that we made over the courses of those games.”