Sporting Kansas City had been in this position before.
Going into Saturday's clash between Western Conference contenders, high-flying expansion side Los Angeles Football Club had never lost at Banc of California Stadium. Head coach Bob Bradley's men boasted a 5-0-5 regular-season record at their new, state-of-the-art digs in downtown LA and had gone 13 home games unbeaten in all competitions.
Consequently, Sporting KC had the opportunity to add another victim to its already extensive hit list. Indeed, Kansas City was no stranger to handing MLS clubs the first loss in their new stadium, having done so on five previous occasions since the MLS expansion era began in 2005.
Lo and behold, Manager Peter Vermes' men delivered arguably their best performance of the season on Saturday, using goals in either half from Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez to prevail 2-0 and inflict a first-ever home defeat for LAFC.
Sporting KC has now given six different opponents their first-ever regular season loss in their current home stadium. No other MLS club has more than two such victories.
SPORTING KC GIVING MLS CLUBS FIRST LOSS IN NEW STADIUM
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, SINCE 2005)
|Toronto FC||BMO Field||04/28/2007||L 1-0 vs. SKC|
|Seattle Sounders FC||CenturyLink Field||04/11/2009||L 1-0 vs. SKC|
|Real Salt Lake||Rio Tinto Stadium||05/16/2009||L 2-0 vs. SKC|
|Houston Dynamo||BBVA Compass Stadium||05/12/2013||L 1-0 vs. SKC|
|New York City FC||Yankee Stadium||03/28/2015||L 1-0 vs. SKC|
|Los Angeles FC||Banc of California Stadium||08/11/2018||L 2-0 vs. SKC|
“We knew this was going to be a tough match; they’ve performed very well here at home," Vermes said postgame. "It’s a great environment, beautiful stadium, and it was a pleasure for us to be able to come in here and play. They’re a very good team and I think the organization has done a great job, but at the end of the day, we’re neck and neck right now and it was important for us to get some points here."
Saturday's result gave Sporting KC 350 all-time wins in all competitions as well as their fifth road triumph of 2018, more than the previous two regular seasons combined. And even more importantly, it lifted the club into second place in the Western Conference, three points ahead of LAFC and just three point behind leaders FC Dallas.
The workmanlike effort also continued a remarkable trend of success in the state of California. Since the start of 2016, Sporting KC owns a 4-0-2 record in California with just two goals conceded in those six games. That run of matches includes a pair of 2-0 wins this season over the Galaxy and LAFC, respectively. Sporting KC will pay one more visit to the Golden State in 2018, traveling to face the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 15.
SPORTING KC IN CALIFORNIA SINCE START OF 2016
|06/02/2016||at LA Galaxy||T 0-0|
|09/24/2016||at San Jose Earthquakes||W 2-1|
|06/17/2017||at San Jose Earthquakes||T 0-0|
|06/24/2017||at LA Galaxy||W 2-1|
|04/08/2018||at LA Galaxy||W 2-0|
|08/11/2018||at Los Angeles FC||W 2-0|
The shutout nature of Saturday's win was all the more impressive given the potency of LAFC's attack during their inaugural campaign. LAFC has scored 45 times this season, tied for the third-most in MLS, but was shut out for just the third time 2018 and didn't muster their first shot on target until the 80th minute, when Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia made his first of five late saves.
Interestingly enough, this wasn't the first time Sporting KC has successfully stifled a high-scoring side away from home. The table below shows Sporting KC's road results against the top four scoring teams in MLS this season, and aside from a 3-2 setback to the Red Bulls, Vermes' side has performed admirably under these daunting circumstances. Their trips to Atlanta, LA Galaxy and LAFC all resulted in 2-0 wins, a feat unlikely to be matched by any other club in 2018.
"To stifle this attack for 90 minutes is not easy, especially in here," Sporting KC defender Ike Opara said afterward. "I think we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done but we need to move forward and continue this streak going into Portland next week.”
SPORTING KC AT TOP FOUR SCORING TEAMS IN MLS IN 2018
|Atlanta United FC||50||05/09/2018||W 2-0||Mercedes-Benz Stadium|
|LA Galaxy||46||04/08/2018||W 2-0||StubHub Center|
|LAFC||45||08/11/2018||W 2-0||Banc of California Stadium|
|New York Red Bulls||45||07/14/2018||L 2-3||Red Bull Arena|
After leaking multiple goals in six straight MLS matches for the first time since 2001, Sporting KC has effectively shored things up since the calendar turned to August. Last weekend's 1-0 win at Houston and last night's clean sheet in LA has allayed fears of defensive malaise and will surely give the side plenty of confidence heading into next Saturday's home tilt with the third-place Portland Timbers at Children's Mercy Park.
“I think we were really good [defensively]," Vermes said. "Sometimes when you think about defense, you think about the guys in front of the goal, but I really think our front five or six guys really pressed the game when they needed to, and that’s where I think we were really, really good. I think it was one of our best performances of the year.”
On the same night Sporting KC celebrated another historic road result, the club's two longest-tenured players also reached major milestones of longevity.
Captain Matt Besler started his 282nd match for the club in all competitions, passing current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin for the most in team history, while fellow defender Graham Zusi made his 241st regular-season appearance to take sole possession of second place on the team's all-time charts.
MOST STARTS FOR SPORTING KC IN ALL COMPETITIONS
|#||Starts||Player||Seasons in KC|
|1||282||Matt Besler||2009 - present|
|4||238||Graham Zusi||2009 - present|
|8||219||Roger Espinoza||2008-2012; 2015 - present|
|10||205||Seth Sinovic||2010 - present|
MOST REGULAR-SEASON APPEARANCES FOR SPORTING KC
|#||Games||Player||Seasons in KC|
|1||246||Matt Besler||2009 - present|
|2||241||Graham Zusi||2009 - present|
|7||211||Roger Espinoza||2008-2012; 2015 - present|
Lastly, one would be remiss not to mention the return of forward Krisztian Nemeth, who made his 2018 debut for Sporting KC as a second-half substitute. The Hungarian scored 16 goals during his first stint in Kansas City in 2015 and rejoined the club Monday following a trade with the New England Revolution.
When Nemeth entered in the 76th minute, he officially became the 10th player in Sporting KC history with two separate stints at the club.
PLAYERS WITH TWO SEPARATE STINTS AT SPORTING KC
|Player||First Stint||Second Stint|
|Roger Espinoza||2008-2012||2015 - present|
|Krisztian Nemeth||2015||2018 - present|
Sporting KC will now look eagerly ahead to next Saturday’s home fixture with the Portland Timbers, set for 7:30 p.m. CT at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the match are available via SeatGeek.com as two of the top three teams in the West battle for playoff position on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.