Sporting Kansas City have scored one goal in the last 277 minutes, but head coach Peter Vermes objects to the question, "Why is your team struggling to score goals?"
"I don't see it that way," Vermes said following SKC's Thursday training session. "Last week in New England, the weather conditions were horrendous. I thought it was a tremendous result for us to get out of there, 0-0, in what was a horrible environment with 40-50 mile per hour winds swirling all over the place, the turf. Then, the week before…"
At this point, Vermes got sidetracked a bit.
"You know, we're being labeled as not being able to score," Vermes said. "But no one talks about the teams that just bunker in every game. No one talks about the mentality of some teams in our league that just bunker in 30 yards in front of their own goal. It's not easy to break down 10 guys who are inside a 38-by-30 box. Not an easy thing to do."
Vermes said he's willing to give New England a pass, based on the conditions. However, the former jack-of-all-trades player says the other three teams SKC have played so far, Philadelphia (a 3-1 SKC win on the road), Toronto (a 2-1 loss on the road) and Chicago (a 0-0 draw at home) have all employed very conservative game plans.
As for this Saturday's opponent, the 4-0-0 Montreal Impact, Vermes said, "They don't even open up at home. So I expect playing at Sporting Park, they'll try to keep it tight and counter. Obviously, what they're doing is working, so it's up to us to solve not only their numbers on the ball, but in making sure we stay balanced so we don't leave ourselves open."
It's a theme as old as the game itself, isn't it? But not all teams are capable of attacking, especially on the road. Sometimes a team may want to attack but finds itself having to defend in order to compete. The object of the game is to win, after all.
Vermes gets it. He knows he can't force other teams to come out of their shell. He's got to push his team to be better at breaking down those teams that sit back.
"I told our team after the 0-0 with Chicago, if we play that way on a consistent basis, we're going to win a lot of games," Vermes said. "We want to be a team that tries to play, whether we're home or away. We've made huge improvements as a possession team and I believe that's going to pay huge dividends down the road. It's on us."
The coach says his philosophy is part of the pledge he made when taking on the job as coach of the team then known as the Kansas City Wizards in August of 2009.
"I have always felt I have an important role in the entertainment value of our team," said Vermes. "That's a slippery slope. Entertainment value and results don't always go together. So you've got to manage those two aspects. But it was always important for us to make sure we were an attractive, entertaining team, but also a team that can win. A lot of people say those things, but it's not always indicative of the way they play."
The last two seasons, Sporting have finished on top of the Eastern Conference regular-season standings. In the process, they've also turned home games into one of the hottest tickets in town. With success has come new challenges, such as dealing now with things like losing attacking midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler to the US national team. Losing striker Kei Kamara to a loan deal with Norwich City of the English Premier League. Losing defensive midfielder Roger Espinoza to Wigan Athletic, also of the EPL.
"It's a challenge," Vermes said. "I said to our ownership there are two ways we can look at this. We could ignore it, or we could create the philosophy that we will always want ambitious players. Players who want to play at the highest levels. And at the same time, we have to be ready when other teams want those guys, that we have depth behind them. We've got to have guys in waiting. That's easier said than done, but it's what we want."
To that end, SKC went out and got Argentine forward Claudio Bieler this offseason, and worked a deal with New England to acquire Benny Feilhaber. In the case of Feilhaber, who has started all four of SKC's games, Vermes said, "He's got some interesting qualities as a player that are a little different than a lot of American players. I think he's progressing with our team. And I told him, I think with all the new players we've brought in there, there's an adaptation to our style. It takes a while to learn our 4-3-3 and the way we step up the field and press the game. I like what I've seen so far. Like anything, you'd like to see things happen quicker, but. I think he's got the right mentality and the right attitude to develop in our system."
A system that Vermes insists isn't struggling.
"I've never felt more confident about guys that have solutions in the final third than I am with this group," he said. "We have dangerous players who will score goals."