Beyond The Box Score: Sporting stymies Atlanta attack in signature win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

On paper, Sporting Kansas City's visit to Atlanta United FC represented arguably the toughest road test of the season.

Under the guidance of head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino, the Five Stripes boasted an uber-talented roster and scored for fun on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, where they had amassed a ridiculous 44 goals in 13 regular season games dating back to 2017. Behind the influential play of striker Josef Martinez and playmaker Miguel Almiron, Atlanta had cemented itself as a 2018 MLS Cup favorite just two months into the club's sophomore campaign.

Consider Sporting KC to have passed the test with flying colors. Manager Peter Vermes' men made an emphatic statement on Wednesday night, securing a 2-0 victory over Atlanta to leapfrog the side for first place in the Supporters' Shield standings. Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes provided second-half goals, goalkeeper Tim Melia stood on his head throughout the night, and Sporting KC emerged with their third road win of the season.

Just two months into the 2018 campaign, Sporting KC has already surpassed its away win total and matched its away goal total from 2017. The club's travels were far less fruitful in each of the last two seasons, as Sporting KC earned a combined five road wins and averaged a paltry 0.65 goals per road game from 2016-2017.

SPORTING KC ON THE ROAD
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, 2015-2018)

Year Record Goals Goals per game
2015 4-9-4 19 1.12
2016 3-9-5 12 0.71
2017 2-8-7 10 0.59
2018 3-1-1 10 2.50

As for stifling Atlanta's potent attack, Wednesday's 2-0 win marked an all-time first that underscores just how rampant the Five Stripes have been on home soil. Sporting KC became the first team ever to post a regular season shutout in Atlanta, snapping a streak of 22 games since the start of 2017. Perhaps more remarkably, Wednesday was the first time Atlanta had failed to score at least two goals in a regular season match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In 13 games at the $1.6 billion venue, Martino's side had outscored opponents 44-15 and notched six clean sheets of their own.

ATLANTA UNITED FC AT MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

Date Opponent Result
09/10/17 FC Dallas W 3-0
09/13/17 New England Revolution W 7-0
09/16/17 Orlando City SC T 3-3
09/20/17 LA Galaxy W 4-0
09/24/17 Montreal Impact W 2-0
09/27/17 Philadelphia Union W 3-0
10/03/17 Minnesota United FC L 2-3
10/22/17 Toronto FC T 2-2
03/11/18 D.C. United W 3-1
03/17/18 Vancouver Whitecaps FC W 4-1
04/07/18 LAFC W 5-0
04/15/18 New York City FC T 2-2
04/28/18 Montreal Impact W 4-1
05/09/18 Sporting KC L 0-2

The pure spectacle of Wednesday's contest only contributed to the sweetness of Sporting KC's accomplishment. A raucous crowd of 44,696 had descended on Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the battle between the top two teams in the Supporters' Shield standings, making for a festive atmosphere in one of the league's biggest games of the early season.

This was the fourth-largest announced attendance for a Sporting KC match in the club's regular season history, and the seventh that surpassed 40,000 fans. Kansas City had failed to win on each of the previous six occasions, but were able to flip the script this time around.

LARGEST CROWDS FOR A SPORTING KC MATCH
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

Date Attendance Stadium Result
07/04/03 60,142 Mile High Stadium L 2-3 at Colorado Rapids
07/04/98 53,655 Rose Bowl L 0-2 at LA Galaxy
06/20/12 46,932 CenturyLink Field T 1-1 at Seattle Sounders FC
05/09/18 44,696 Mercedes-Benz Stadium W 2-0 at Atlanta United FC
08/12/17 43,530 CenturyLink Field L 0-1 at Seattle Sounders FC
07/04/05 41,987 Mile High Stadium L 1-2 at Colorado Rapids
05/23/15 40,653 CenturyLink Field T 0-0 at Seattle Sounders FC

As the smoke settles on what was a competitive and feisty affair — Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan received a straight red card for the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity in the 34th minute, while boos reigned down from the Five Stripes faithful at the final whistle — now is as good a time as ever to reflect on Sporting KC's strong start in 2018.

The 2017 iteration of Sporting KC used a dominant defense en route to an Open Cup title and a seventh straight playoff berth. This year's team has found success on both sides of the ball, ranking first in shutouts but also sharing a tie for the league lead with 23 goals.

GOALS AND SHUTOUTS: 2018 MLS REGULAR SEASON
(minimum 15 goals & 3 shutouts; MLS rank in parenthesis)

Club Goals Shutouts Record Points Position
Sporting KC 23 (t-1st) 5 (1st) 7-2-2 23 (1st) 1st in West
Atlanta United FC 23 (t-1st) 3 (t-4th) 7-2-1 22 (2nd) 1st in East
New York Red Bulls 21 (3rd) 3 (t-4th) 5-3-0 15 (7th) 5th in East
LAFC 20 (4th) 4 (t-2nd) 6-2-1 19 (t-4th) 2nd in West
New York City FC 19 (t-5th) 3 (t-4th) 6-2-2 20 (3rd) 2nd in East
New England Revolution 15 (8th) 3 (t-4th) 4-3-2 14 (8th) 6th in East

So this begs the question: how does Sporting KC's start in 2018 stack up among the best in club history? Taking multiple factors into consideration, it's fair to say the team is off to its second best start ever.

The 2000 MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield champions started 9-0-2 with nine shutouts and a plus-19 goal differential. That sits among the greatest starts the league has ever seen. But this year's 11-game start makes a good claim for second spot.

SPORTING KC THROUGH 11 GAMES IN 2018
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

Statistic Points Club rank
Points 23 t-2nd
Wins 7 t-2nd
Goals 23 t-1st
Goal differential +11 2nd
Shutouts 5 t-4th

As the table above illustrates, Sporting KC's 23 goals are tied for the most through 11 regular season games in club history. Their 23 points, seven wins and plus-11 goal differential rank second through 11 matches.

With a third of the MLS regular season in the books, Sporting KC won’t return to action until Sunday, May 20, when the side visits Minnesota United FC at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.

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