Plenty of clubs in MLS would love to have Sporting Kansas City's 8-5-3 record and plus-13 goal differential at home – not to mention the club's long string of sellouts, with Sporting Park packed to the concourses with some of the league's loudest fans.
Still, 8-5-3 hardly screams “fortress,” especially given that raucous, passionate matchday atmosphere. Manager Peter Vermes has an idea why Sporting haven't dominated at home, and he says it's been going on for some time now.
“I don't understand why [the media doesn't] write about it,” Vermes said after Friday night's 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union snapped his club's three-game winning streak. “We're talking about this stuff week after week, and nobody ever writes about it. It's a big part of our league.”
The source of his frustration, Vermes said, is that opponents are getting away with match-slowing gamesmanship at Sporting Park.
“How long did [Philadelphia] take on every set piece? How long did they take on every situation? I thought we were playing [Nicaraguan side] Real Esteli at the end of the game here, with everybody going down,” Vermes said. “How many guys are going to lay down on the ground? At some point, the referee has to step in and take care of that. And I don't understand that. Every time they come into this building with a full stadium, it doesn't get take care of.”
That doesn't happen in away matches, Vermes said, because Sporting try to drive the match and opponents have to keep up with them. Sporting KC are 6-5-3 on the road this year.
“If you look at our road record, why is it so good? Why is it one of the best in the league? It's a simple equation,” he said. “The other teams are playing at home. They have to play. Because if they don't, their fans are going to boo them. So we go to play at those places, and we do, and when those teams want to play, I'll stack us up against anybody.
“It's when they come here, it's different. I don't have a problem with teams that sit in, do whatever they do in terms of tactics. That's the game. But it's the slowness of the game that can be managed by the referee crew.”
Philadelphia's Sheanon Williams got a yellow card for that infraction in the 82nd minute, and referee Ricardo Salazar added five minutes of stoppage time to the goalless second half. But Vermes said that Salazar should have brought out his book late in the first 45 when Michael Farfan kicked the ball away before a free kick.
“Players adapt very quickly and so do teams,” Vermes said. “The second that the players understand that the referees don't want you touching the ball, because you're going to [issue] a yellow card, they will stop. They know. But if they know they get away with it, they keep doing it.”
The result, Vermes said, is unattractive soccer that does nothing to sell the league to new fans.
“When we're trying to put an entertainment value to the game, and to our fans and all across the league, they have a major responsibility in how that game is perceived by the fans – meaning the referee crew,” he said. “And it's unfortunate that week in, week out – and I bring this up week in and week out – it's not managed across the board.”