Sporting Kansas City got what they wanted from their opening match of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League: three points on the road, no injuries to further deplete their already-thin roster, and good marks from their manager.
“Everything from the management of the score to the different situations in the game, I thought we were very good,” Peter Vermes told reporters by phone after Wednesday night's 2-0 away victory over Nicaraguan side Real Esteli broke Sporting's 11-year victory drought in international competitions. “We were locked into the game.”
Defender Ike Opara delivered one scary moment when he dropped to the pitch and was slow to get up after his 31st-minute goal put Sporting up 1-0. But the momentum he gave his club, with a looping header off Benny Feilhaber's free kick, carried Kansas City into the half and beyond.
“I don’t know if he was trying to flick it back across the face of the goal or he was trying to head in his own goal, but it doesn’t matter,” Vermes said. “It was an excellent ball from Benny and Ike got up very high like he’s been doing. It was great for us to get that goal going into halftime.”
Dom Dwyer's 76th-minute tally, his second in as many matches across all competitions, was his – and Sporting's – reward for continuing to take the game to Real Esteli.
“It was huge, because it gave us a little more breathing room and made them have to send more guys forward,” Vermes said. “What we did really well was we actually didn’t back off of them. We didn’t give them a lot of room to play even though they were trying to get numbers forward. We did a really good job pressing them high up the field, which I don’t think they were used to, and that allowed us to win a lot of second balls.”
Dwyer was making his first start of the year at center forward for Sporting, after coming on late to score in Saturday's 3-2 home league loss to the New York Red Bulls. On Wednesday, his energetic play up front earned praise from Vermes.
“He was a real nuisance for them and made some great diagonal runs, which ultimately led to some good positioning,” Vermes said. “It stretched them out quite a bit.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.