"I always say that when you win, the next day's coffee tastes unbelievable. It's like the coffee the next morning is just like out of this world." - Peter "Il Mentore" Vermes
Suffice to say, the coffee was tasting especially good in Kansas City this weekend after three straight days of success for club and country.
On Friday, the Kansas City Current moved atop the Central Division Standings in the NWSL Challenge Cup with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars for the team's first ever comeback win and first ever road win.
On Saturday, the Kansas City Comets defeated cross-state rivals St. Louis Ambush 7-3 indoors at Cable Dahmer Arena while Sporting Kansas City prevailed 1-0 over previously unbeaten Real Salt Lake outdoors at Children's Mercy Park.
On Sunday, Sporting KC II earned a road point in the team's MLS NEXT Pro debut at Colorado Rapids 2 and the U.S. Men's National Team, featuring former Sporting KC midfielder Gianluca Busio, capped all the action off with an emphatic 5-1 win over Panama to move the United States to the brink of qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Add in two local colleges cutting down the nets -- as Northwest Missouri State won the NCAA Division II basketball championship and KU advanced to the Final Four -- and sports fans across the region were savoring the sweet taste of victory on Monday morning.
HIGHLIGHTS: Sporting KC 1-0 Real Salt Lake | Mar 26, 2022
Sporting Kansas City brewed up the team's second 1-0 win in as many home matches on Saturday with a standing-room only crowd in attendance at Children's Mercy Park.
Having already beaten Houston in the club's home opener on March 5, Sporting faced a considerably tougher test against a Real Salt Lake side that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2021 and entered riding a three-game winning streak that vaulted the club into pole position in the Supporters' Shield standings a month into the 2022 campaign.
Vermes welcomed two key contributors back into the starting lineup with the return of MLS All-Star Daniel Salloi and club captain Johnny Russell, and it was Russell who provided the breakthrough goal in the 81st minute.
The Scottish international received the ball 30 yards from goal and held off challenges from Everton Luiz and Jonathan Menendez before navigating his way past four more Real Salt Lake defenders - controlling a beneficial bounce of the ball off Tate Schmitt en route -- and finished the play off superbly by sending Zac MacMath the wrong direction as his shot nestled into the back of the net.
"When you play the game, scoring is the best feeling for your team and obviously winning games. So to do both tonight was massive," Russell said postgame. "We got a bit of luck. I tried to play a through ball to Khiry (Shelton) and a little bit of a ricochet straight back to me, but it's about time we get a goal like that. I feel like a lot of teams get goals like that against us and we always seem to have to carve a team open to get a goal like that. So from that point of view, it was nice. It fell perfectly for me and that's just nice to get the first goal and get it out of the way and kick on from here."
On a night when three Sporting KC players achieved major milestones - more on that in a moment - the goal carried extra significance for Russell, whose parents and siblings had flown from Scotland to be in attendance and to celebrate his daughter's birthday on Saturday.
"I always seem to score goals when they're here," Russell said after the match. "Obviously with the pandemic hitting, it's been difficult to have people out so definitely making the most of it this year. Mom, dad and two brothers are out here. Hopefully, I get some more family out as well. Playing in front of your family, for me, is the best part about playing professionally. You get to do it in front of them so it's amazing to have them here."
Russell's goal was the 400th scored by Sporting KC in stadium history across all competitions and his 10th game-winning goal for the club, tying him with Davy Arnaud for seventh on the club's all-time chart in the category.
Since arriving in Major League Soccer in 2018, Russell ranks third among all players in goal contributions over the past five seasons with 72 combined goals and assists. Only MLS Most Valuable Players Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez have more to their names.
After five weeks of the Major League Soccer season, remarkably only four of the league's 28 teams have perfect home records: Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew SC are all 2-0-0 while Nashville SC awaits the club's highly-anticipated home opener on May 1.
"The main focus is taking maximum points here," Russell said. "We have to make this place a fortress where teams fear coming in and get back to that. I feel we're definitely taking strides towards that. Real Salt Lake, they've started well up at the top of the table and we've just shown that we are more than capable of taking it to any team."
Sporting's recipe for home success thus far has been a stout defense that is yet to concede a goal at Children's Mercy Park in 2022. In fact, this season is the first since 2013 - when Sporting went on to win MLS Cup - and the seventh in team history (1998, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2022) in which the club has recorded clean sheets in the first two regular season home matches of the year.
The strong home form early in the campaign continues a longstanding trend for Sporting Kansas City under Vermes. Sporting is now 17-1-5 at home in the month of March across all competitions with Vermes as manager, including eight straight wins dating back to 2018.
Vermes, the longest tenured manager in Major League Soccer, has relied heavily on three of the team's longest tenured players this season - all of whom etched their names into the record books on Saturday with milestone moments.
Tim Melia, facing his former club, became the first goalkeeper in Sporting KC history to make 200 regular season appearances. In doing so, he tied Chris Klein for 10th on Sporting's all-time games played chart and tied Seth Sinovic for eighth on the team's all-time games started list.
Goalkeepers with 200 Appearances for One Club
Major League Soccer Regular Season History
1. Nick Rimando (369 w/ RSL)
2. Bill Hamid (273 w/ DC)
3. Matt Reis (254 w/ NE)
4. Kevin Hartman (243 w/ LA)
5. Stefan Frei (240 w/ SEA)
6. Luis Robles (238 w/ NY)
7. Zach Thornton (215 w/ CHI)
8. Tim Melia (200 w/ SKC)
Melia made two superb saves on Saturday, the first to deny Menendez in the fifth minute in a 1v1 situation and the second to push Erik Holt's half volley wide of the post in the 42nd minute.
"He's kind of a legend of the club," Sporting KC defender Nicolas Isimat-Mirin said. "The number of saves and what he has done since he's here is unbelievable. I’ve played with so many keepers and I put this guy on top three of my best goalkeeper. He’s good for leading, he’s good for communication and always a positive spirit. He’s a great guy. It's a pleasure to play with this guy."
"Tim has been a very steady goalkeeper here for the last number of years," Vermes told reporters. "He came in as someone who was, in a lot of people's eyes, he was way beyond his career. And in the latter parts of his career, he's made it a career. So credit to him and he works hard. He’s a humble guy and he cares about the team. Those are all reasons why he's been good and consistently good."
Since joining Sporting in 2015, Melia's 61 regular season shutouts are most in Major League Soccer over the past eight seasons - leading Stefan Frei (58), Luis Robles (55) and Andre Blake (52).
The only two players with tenures longer than Melia? Roger Espinoza, a 2008 MLS SuperDraft selection, and Graham Zusi, a 2009 MLS SuperDraft selection. Both MLS All-Stars celebrated career accomplishments of their own on Saturday.
Zusi officially became the team's career leader in minutes played across all competition, surpassing Matt Besler - who was in attendance to honor the newest Blue KC Sporting Samaritan - in the second half of Sporting's win over Real Salt Lake.
Espinoza, who ranks third for Sporting in career minutes played, made his 300th career start for the club across all competition. Together, Espinoza and Zusi rank in the top five for games played among one-club MLS players all-time and top 11 in games played for one club among all players in MLS history.
Games Played by One-Club Players
(MLS Regular Season History)
1. Graham Zusi 325 (Sporting KC)
2. Diego Chara* 315 (Portland)
3. Cobi Jones* 306 (LA Galaxy)
4. C.J. Brown* 296 (Chicago)
5. Roger Espinoza* 291 (Sporting KC)
*Played for other professional clubs outside MLS
Games Played for One Club
(MLS Regular Season History)
1. Chris Wondolowski 376 (San Jose)
2. Nick Rimando 369 (Real Salt Lake)
3. Kyle Beckerman 350 (Real Salt Lake)
4. Jaime Moreno 329 (D.C. United)
5. Graham Zusi 325 (Sporting KC)
6. Shea Salinas 319 (San Jose)
7. Diego Chara 315 (Portland)
8. Cobi Jones 306 (LA Galaxy)
9. C.J. Brown 296 (Chicago)
10. Matt Besler 294 (Sporting KC)
11. Roger Espinoza 291 (Sporting KC)
Zusi, at age 35, ranks fifth in MLS with 32.6 miles covered in five matches this year. The league leader? None other than Sporting KC midfielder Remi Walter with 35.7 miles logged to date.
The duo are two of only three Sporting KC field players to play every minute this season along with Isimat-Mirin.
"It's very nice to get the victory at home. Everybody worked very hard to get the result," Isimat-Mirin said. "We will get better and better every game. It's always a bonus to get a clean sheet. Everybody gives their best on the field."
Postgame Show: SKC vs RSL | Mar 26, 2022
After coming out on top in a rematch of last year's Western Conference Semifinals, Sporting Kansas City will cross the Canadian border for a visit to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday at BC Place in a match-up of two teams that also met in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Saturday's showdown will be locally televised on 38 The Spot with three hours of coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT. The broadcast will also stream live on SportingKC.com and in the Sporting KC app for viewers in Kansas and Missouri (excluding St. Louis area per MLS policy), as well as ESPN+ for out-of-market subscribers. In addition, Sporting KC pub partners across the Midwest will be showing the match.