You might as well call it March madness.
The moniker commonly used to define the thrilling and unpredictable nature of the NCAA basketball tournament is an equally appropriate descriptor of Sporting Kansas City’s start to the 2018 MLS campaign.
A week after edging the Chicago Fire in a 4-3 barnburner at Toyota Park, Sporting KC celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes to take a share of first place in the Western Conference. Ilie opened his MLS scoring account with a first-half penalty before Graham Zusi and Felipe Gutierrez bagged second-half stunners to wrap up all three points in a thoroughly entertaining affair at Children’s Mercy Park.
It would be appropriate to emphasize the word “entertaining,” with the goals continuing to flow Saturday at a rate rarely seen in the club’s 23-year history. Even taking into account a 2-0 loss to New York City FC in Week 1, Sporting Kansas City has scored seven or more goals in the month of March for the first time ever. And that’s with two more March fixtures still to play over the next fortnight.
SPORTING KC: MOST GOALS SCORED IN MARCH
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME
The recent offensive explosion from Manager Peter Vermes’ men ranks among the best during his 10-year tenure as manager. In fact, Sporting KC’s seven total goals in the last two matches are tied for the second-most over a two-game span in club regular-season history. The team scored eight over two games in both 1996 and 1997 — the swashbuckling early days of MLS in which goals piled up at record rates.
SPORTING KC: MOST GOALS SCORED OVER TWO GAMES
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|T 2-2 at San Jose Earthquakes
W 6-4 vs. Columbus Crew SC
|T 2-2 vs. Tampa Bay Mutiny
W 6-1 vs. D.C. United
|W 4-3 at Chicago Fire
W 3-2 vs. San Jose Earthquakes
|7||12 other times||Occurred in 1996 (x2), 1997, 1998, 1999,
2000, 2003, 2005 (x3), 2011 and 2015
Sporting KC’s impressive salvo comes with a caveat, however. As prolific as the team has been in the attacking third, opponents have experienced success going forward as well. After conceding three goals in Chicago, the hosts were breached twice more by San Jose on Saturday night. With a five-goal barrage arriving on the heels of a seven-goal thriller, Sporting Kansas City’s second straight high-scoring win fuels a narrative that looks nothing like the script from 2017.
Consider this: Sporting KC’s 34 regular-season matches in 2017 produced 69 total goals, 13 fewer than any other team. The club managed 40 goals, fifth-fewest in MLS, but allowed just 29 in one of the league’s best-ever seasons defensively.
Turn the page to 2018, and this trend has turned on its head. The 12 combined goals in Sporting KC’s last two matches are tied for the second-most over a two-game span in club regular-season history. It’s a smaller sample size, sure, but it’s nevertheless a stark departure from the overall look of 2017.
Saturday’s triumph will be remembered for a pair of sensational goals that arrived after halftime. The left-footed thunderbolts from Zusi and Gutierrez brought 18,868 fans to their feet on a night that saw both players make history.
We begin with Gutierrez, who has earned the remarkable distinction as the first Sporting KC player ever to score three goals in his first three regular season appearances for the team. And that only describes part of the Chilean international’s excellent start to 2018, as the midfielder leads MLS with 20 tackles and ranks sixth with 29 duels won.
Zusi, meanwhile, reached his milestone in the 44th minute, becoming the seventh player to log 20,000 minutes for Sporting KC in all competitions. His backline teammate Matt Besler is the only other player on the current roster with more minutes played for the club.
20,000 MINUTES PLAYED FOR SPORTING KC
BOLD = active player on Sporting KC roster
The long-range efforts from Zusi and Gutierrez marked just the sixth time during the Opta era (2010-present) that Sporting KC has struck twice from outside the box in a regular season game. All such instances are listed below.
SPORTING KC: MOST GOALS OUTSIDE THE BOX
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, 2010-PRESENT)
|3||06/12/2011||W 4-1 at FC Dallas||Graham Zusi (2)
|2||03/17/2018||W 3-2 vs. San Jose Earthquakes||Graham Zusi
|2||04/29/2017||W 3-0 vs. Real Salt Lake||Dom Dwyer
|2||04/25/2015||T 4-4 at Houston Dynamo||Krisztian Nemeth
|2||08/17/2011||W 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers||Kei Kamara
|2||08/21/2010||W 4-1 vs. New England Revolution||Birahim Diop
Looking ahead, Sporting KC will hope to carry their strong attacking form into a stadium where they have failed to score in three straight visits. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will serve as the setting next Saturday when Vermes’ side faces the Colorado Rapids in an 8 p.m. CT kickoff on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.
“I thought we showed a real hunger,” Vermes said after the San Jose win. “If we weren’t a little unlucky, we probably could have scored a couple more goals. I think we’re on the precipice of doing something really good.”