Saturday's highly anticipated showdown between Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire was layered with more storylines than a convoluted soap opera.
Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dax McCarty had rejoined their clubs following Wednesday's CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph with the U.S. MNT. Ike Opara had bounced back from a terrifying concussion 18 days earlier to continue his push for MLS Defender of the Year. Five MLS All-Stars took to the field, including four from an explosive Chicago side led by All-Star coach Veljko Paunovic. Both teams occupied second place in the East and West, respectively, and the fixture provided an intriguing matchup of potent offense (Chicago) versus stifling defense (Sporting KC).
And then there was an emotional aspect that unified the entire Sporting Kansas City community, as the lives of co-owner Neal Patterson and devout super-fan Deanna Weymuth were fondly remembered.
Add it all up, and it's only fitting that Sporting Kansas City and Chicago played out a five-goal thriller before an electric, sold-out crowd. Manager Peter Vermes men' would prevail 3-2, using goals from Daniel Salloi, Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing to reclaim top spot in the Western Conference and extend a regular season home unbeaten run that continues to ascend Major League Soccer's all-time charts.
Indeed, Sporting KC's 20-game home run without an MLS defeat is now the sixth-longest in league history. In the coming weeks and months, the team has an opportunity to climb even further up the list.
LONGEST HOME UNBEATEN RUNS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON HISTORY)
|Real Salt Lake||29||06/06/09||05/14/11|
|Columbus Crew SC||22||06/28/08||09/26/09|
Entering Saturday with the second-best goals per game clip in MLS, the Fire didn't go down without a fight. Chicago became the first team to score multiple goals at Children's Mercy Park since September 2016, which meant that Sporting Kansas City needed to display sharpness in the final third in order to secure all three points.
Consider that objective a success. Salloi and Blessing were menacing threats throughout the night, consistently creating danger on the wings to support center forward Diego Rubio — who notched his first career MLS assist and almost added a second helper only for Salloi to narrowly miss the target in the 59th minute.
The chart below revisits a trend that was first examined in our Beyond the Box Score series four weeks ago. It's plain to see that Sporting Kansas City's wing production in 2017 has added a level of "tough-to-defend" dynamism that was lacking last season.
SPORTING KC WINGERS IN 2016 (All Competitions)
|Team totals||12 goals in
SPORTING KC WINGERS IN 2017 (All Competitions)
|Team totals||18 goals in
"I was telling somebody before that I thought that between Diego and Daniel, it’s almost like they’ve been playing together for 10 years with the relationship and combination play," Vermes said postgame.
"(The forwards) were hungry. I knew that putting Daniel out there — he’s going to go for goals. His movement is going to be very good in the fact that he can hold the ball up very well and bring players into the game. I also thought that Latif was very dangerous in the first half. He stretched the defense a lot and they weren’t ready for it. But being able to play through a focal point up front was a big piece of tonight’s success.”
Just as Vermes' team entered an exclusive group by going 20 unbeaten at home, the ninth-year head coach made a bit of history himself. With Saturday's 3-2 win under his belt, Vermes entered a tie with the retired Steve Nicol as the seventh-winningest coach in the league's 22-year existence.
WINNINGEST COACHES IN MLS REGULAR SEASON HISTORY
|Coach||Wins||Current MLS club|
|Sigi Schmid||228||LA Galaxy|
|Bob Bradley||124||Los Angeles FC|
|Jason Kreis||113||Orlando City SC|
|Oscar Pareja||85||FC Dallas|
Sporting Kansas City will continue its three-game homestand next Sunday in the club’s inaugural match against expansion side Atlanta United FC, presently the highest-scoring outfit in MLS. The mouthwatering clash at Children’s Mercy Park will be televised nationally on FS1 and FOX Deportes with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT. Tickets for the Military Appreciation Night fixture are available at SeatGeek.com.