Beyond The Box Score: Among defenders, Graham Zusi creating chances at remarkable clip

As the oft-used saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

On Saturday night, that meant the end of Sporting Kansas City's remarkable home unbeaten streak in both the MLS regular season and across all competitions.

First-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC grabbed a goal against the run of play to emerge 1-0 victors, extending their lead over Sporting KC to four points at a stunned Children's Mercy Park. This marked the first home defeat for Peter Vermes' men since Sept. 13, 2016 and their first regular-season home loss since May 27, 2016.

The bitterly frustrating setback snapped Sporting KC's 22-game home unbeaten run in all competitions and their 24-game home unbeaten mark in the regular season, which stood as the third-longest in MLS history. Both streaks were all-time club records. Coincidentally, it was Whitecaps FC who dealt Sporting KC their most recent loss at Children's Mercy Park prior to Saturday: a 2-1 reverse in the CONCACAF Champions League just over a year ago.

Are the alarm bells ringing? Surely not, as the 2017 U.S. Open Cup champions remain on course to clinch a seventh straight playoff appearance and could do so as soon as Saturday if they win at Minnesota United FC.

And as irritating as Saturday's loss was — Sporting KC controlled 75 percent possession and put seven of 18 shots on target — Vermes knows the result may well have been different if his side had been more lethal in front of goal, especially in the first half-hour.

"I can say it now, the game was lost in that first 30 minutes," Vermes said postgame. "We had some great opportunities. We had to stick them away. It not only gets you the goal but it changes the game and how they’ve got to play, and we didn’t do that."

On a night marred by consternation, one positive trend stayed true on Saturday evening: right back Graham Zusi was a constant threat down the right wing.

The U.S. international finished with a game-high four chances created, marking the continuation of an unprecedented year among MLS defenders.

Zusi's 49 chances created during the 2017 regular season are 16 more than any other defender across the league (games through Sept. 30). During the Opta era (2010 - present), that total is also the second-most ever by a defender in a single regular season.

The only player who has matched Zusi's chance creation clip from a backline position is New England Revolution veteran Chris Tierney. And among Sporting KC players, only Chance Myers (in 2011) has come remotely close to Zusi's playmaking rate as an outside back.

MOST CHANCES CREATED BY MLS DEFENDERS IN A SINGLE SEASON
(MLS REGULAR SEASON SINCE 2010)

Year Player (club) Chances Created Games Played
2015 Chris Tierney (NE) 58 31
2017 Graham Zusi (SKC) 49 22
2011
2016
Chris Tierney (NE) 48 27
28
2012
2013
Chris Tierney (NE) 44 28
29
2011 Sebastian Miranda (CLB) 37 34
2011 Chance Myers (SKC) 35 28
2016 Taylor Kemp (DC) 34 31
2017 Greg Garza (ATL)
Joevin Jones (SEA)
33 27
26

Zusi is one shy of becoming the second MLS defender to reach 50 chances created in a single regular season. He's managed to do it in just 22 appearances, as every other player on the list above has taken at least 26 games to reach their respective totals.

Now in his ninth MLS season, Zusi will now join teammates Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber for U.S. Men's National Team duty as CONCACAF's Hexagonal comes to a close. The Sporting KC trio is part of head coach Bruce Arena’s 26-man squad going into Friday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier against Panama at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2, Univision and UDN. The Americans will then travel to face Trinidad & Tobago next Tuesday, Oct. 10, in their Hexagonal finale at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Wins over Panama and Trinidad & Tobago would ensure the U.S. a top-three finish in the Hex and an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance.

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