As they head toward their first of three late-season showdowns against their closest Eastern Conference challengers, Sporting Kansas City have found a steady one-two scoring punch in forwards Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury.
And that, they said, only makes Sporting’s entire lineup more dangerous as they try to fend off second-place New York.
“What’s good about our team is that if the other team says, ‘We have to watch for Kei Kamara or Teal Bunbury,’ then there’s C.J. Sapong,” Kamara said after Tuesday’s training session. “There’s Graham Zusi. There’s Aurélien Collin coming up from the back. You can’t focus on one guy.”
Opponents will still have to account for Bunbury and Kamara first, however.
Each has scored twice in Sporting’s last four matches – all victories – across all competitions. Kamara leads Kansas City with nine league goals, and Bunbury has five in MLS play. And as Sapong continues to work his way back from injury, there’s a good chance that the hot-shooting tandem will be in the XI when Sporting host the Red Bulls on Sunday (8 pm CT, ESPN2).
“I feel at this time of year, everyone’s on the same page,” Bunbury said. “Our chemistry is there, working off each other, and it’s our job to get assists and get goals. Our teammates around us are really helping get us in those positions.”
The work the two forwards do in other areas has been just as valuable, manager Peter Vermes said, with Bunbury forcing defenses to contend with his presence in the middle and Kamara creating mismatches on the wing.
“Teal’s pressure up top has just been excellent,” Vermes said. “He puts teams under pressure because he can stretch them with his speed. It opens the field for us to be able to play underneath. So even when he doesn’t score, he does so much for us that it’s hard to take him off.
"The thing that’s big about Kei is when he plays out wide, very seldom does the other team – if they’re playing their regular players – have the proper matchup. So a lot of times teams have to make the adjustment and put another guy out there to mark him, and all of a sudden that changes the way they play.”
And as the forward tandem continues to click, Bunbury and Kamara are reaping the benefits on the stat sheet as Sporting do the same in the standings.
The key to each player’s success, noted Vermes, is the same as it is for anyone else in Sporting’s lineup – movement off the ball.
“[During] a regular game in MLS, an average player touches the ball for about a minute-30 [seconds],” he said. “So the other 88-and-a-half minutes, you have to be running off the ball. You have to be good at that. A lot of players aren’t good at that, don’t recognize that as a big part of the game, but I think our guys have developed to where that’s a strong part of our team.”