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KC Breakdown: Broken, not beaten at Vancouver


3-3 draw on Saturday afternoon against the Vancouver Whitecaps (1-1-1, four points) at Empire Field

Table position…

Tied for third place in the Eastern Conference on four points (1-1-1) with 31 games remaining

Three things to take away…

1) This one sure felt like a loss even if it wasn’t.

For most Sporting Kansas City supporters, Saturday’s heartbreaker felt more like two points lost than one point gained. Kansas City surely weren’t perfect for the first 65 minutes, but they did hold what felt like a nearly insurmountable 3-0 lead. Sure, Vancouver picked up a consolation goal through Atiba Harris, but nobody could have expected back-to-back stoppage-time goals would snatch a victory from Sporting’s grasp.

2) Opposing defenses beware; Kansas City’s forward corps means business in 2011.

[inline_node:332900]Kansas City have scored a league-leading eight goals this season and seven of those have come from the team’s forwards, giving Peter Vermes a front line surging with confidence.

Omar Bravo already has two goals, Teal Bunbury has three early tallies, C.J. Sapong has a goal and an assist and Kei Kamara has recorded a goal and two assists. That’s pretty impressive for a team that has struggled to get consistent production up top for the past two seasons.

Even more tantalizing is the fact that Ryan Smith, Kansas City’s leading assist man last season, is still recovering from knee surgery and poised to add a nice change of pace once healthy.

3) Kansas City desperately need to shore up the defensive side of the ball.

As good as the team has been going forward through three games, it has been equally shaky defending its own goal. In addition to leading the league in goals scored, Sporting top the charts in goals allowed with eight, and that number would surely be higher without the heroics of goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.

The goals have come in all shapes and sizes: some avoidable (see the two set-piece strikes against Chivas), some the result of a defensive shake up and red card (see the Fire game) and some the result of critical mistakes (see Whitecaps, Vancouver). Vermes and the club have high hopes for this season. If they want to accomplish those things, shoring up the defense has to be priority one.

Two players who stood out…

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen

Nielsen nearly blew a gasket Saturday when Vancouver made their comeback, and nobody could really blame him. The 10 players in front of the Danish goalkeeper simply wilted in stoppage time after Nielsen had bailed them out time and time again to keep Kansas City in the game and preserve the side’s chance to take three points.

Forward Teal Bunbury

[inline_node:332737]North of the border for his first professional game in Canada since committing to the United States, Bunbury showed Vancouver fans exactly what they will be missing on the international stage. The Ontario-born 21-year-old scored two breathtaking goals and narrowly missed another on his way to his third goal in just 135 minutes this season.

To put that in perspective, Bunbury had five goals in 1,441 regular-season minutes a year ago. It’s starting to look like Juan Agudelo won’t be the only young MLS attacker on this summer’s Gold Cup roster.

One play that changed the game…

Instead of one specific play, it was the artificial surface in Vancouver that really took the wind out of Sporting Kansas City’s sails. For a team that values fitness so highly, it was surprising to see Kansas City’s players falling like flies to cramps late in the game, and may pointed to an abnormally high level of padding (small, black rubber pellets) as the culprit. More than one mentioned it felt like running in sand, and the ensuing cramps forced Davy Arnaud and Júlio César to be substituted, leaving Sporting open to the late onslaught from the Whitecaps.

Final verdict…

This one hurt, and it’s hard to see two points simply disappear in a matter of minutes. But it’s certainly not reason to panic in Kansas City. Through three games, Vermes and his charges have managed to scrape together four points under less-than-ideal circumstances. Given the time to integrate all its new parts and fully grasp the tactical nuances of the 4-3-3 formation, Sporting have shown that, at the very least, they have the attacking pieces to make a run in the Eastern Conference.

Next up...

Wednesday in College Station, Texas, for a US Open Cup play-in game against the Houston Dynamo. Kansas City bowed out of the competition meekly last season, dropping their play-in game to Colorado on the campus of UMKC. The hope is that this year will be different, but with plenty of players recovering from injury and the travel and exertion from this weekend’s game, it’s really anyone’s guess what kind of lineup Vermes will trot out on the campus of Texas A&M.