Sporting make one final point on epic road journey

Sporting Kansas City are coming home, and they’re doing it with another precious point in the bank.

With both sides desperate for a result, Sporting and Toronto FC played out a dour scoreless draw at BMO Field Saturday evening complete with 32 fouls, five collective attempts on goal and very little to speak of in inspiring attacking play.

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And though it certainly wasn’t a compelling 90 minutes from either side, Sporting will gladly take the point and shutout – their first this season – and look ahead to the grand opening of Livestrong Sporting Park next Thursday.       

“It was great to get a clean sheet tonight,” manager Peter Vermes said. “The guys have taken it to heart that we have given away some easy goals. I think they realized in the last couple games that it has to stop.”

For the first time this season, Sporting (1-6-3) managed to string together a result in back-to-back games, after drawing 1-1 with Colorado last weekend. They are still last in the Eastern Conference on six points, but it’s a far cry from where Vermes’s side was a few weeks ago.

After giving up goals at an alarming clip early in the season and suffering through a five-game losing streak in the process, Sporting have now given up just two goals in its last four games in all competitions. And apart from the momentary lapses that led to each goal, they've been organized and committed, giving the team reason to be optimistic about their fortunes now that they’ve left the road life behind.

“The guys are fighting,” Vermes said. “They’ve realized what the foundation is for us defensively, and we are starting to build a little better towards our attack. I think the game plan for the guys was pretty solid, and they executed well not to give anything away.”

Sporting were generally the more dangerous of the two teams, but that wasn’t saying much on a day in which neither goalkeeper was seriously tested. Omar Bravo and Ryan Smith had their moments on the wings and Teal Bunbury forced a fine save out of Stefan Frei, but the game always looked likely to end nil-nil with both teams seemingly playing not to concede.     

“It’s not up to us to make the game when we are playing away from home,” Vermes said. “That was really their job. They tried not to get stretched out and tried to play long balls out of the back the whole time. It was a little different than how they try to play normally, which is pass the ball and play out of the back.”

Still, Sporting hit their fair share of aimless passes as well, and Vermes acknowledged his side had left plenty to be desired going forward, attributing those shortcomings to a mixture of a lack of composure in the final third and bad luck.

“We had a couple good chances,” he said, “but we were a little bit off on the final pass going to goal throughout the game.”

Sporting made four changes to the lineup that began the game last week in Colorado, as Bunbury and Smith each started and Eric Kronberg came into the lineup in place of Jimmy Nielsen. Nielsen stayed back in Kansas City after an infection forced him to be hospitalized on Thursday night.

“Jimmy is doing well,” Vermes said. “I fully expect for him to be available next week…We’re very fortunate to have two top-level goalkeepers.”

Sporting are even more fortunate to be finished with a road trip that had the makings of a disaster but eventually evened out over time. Just five days separate the club from an occasion they’ve been waiting for the better part of two years.

There’s no doubt they’re ready.