KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Raise your hand if you chose Sporting Kansas City to score and concede the most goals this season.
Didn't think so.
Sure, it's only three weeks. But Sporting are already one of the league's biggest surprises on both ends of the field, finding the net seven times and also allowing seven goals over three matches. This from a team that scored just 40 times and let in a measly 29 goals last season.
In fact, Sporting are tied with star-studded Atlanta United for the most goals scored, despite both teams getting shut out in their respective season openers. Their goals allowed are the most of any MLS side.
So what's different from a year ago? Manager and technical director Peter Vermes thinks it's as simple as more composure in front one goal, and less composure in front of the other.
“We’ve created good situations and we’ve capitalized on the ones we’ve created,” Vermes said of his team's finishing. “I think that’s something that we didn’t do last year. Last year I thought we created a lot of good chances and we just didn’t put them away.”
As for the defense?
“I think it’s poor decisions,” said Vermes. “We’ve made some very poor decisions on some very routine plays. Obviously that’s not customary for us.”
Sporting have been known for tight, low-scoring matches over the last few years. A season ago, they required eight games to score seven times, and 11 matches to concede that many.
The goals allowed may be even more surprising, given that Sporting returned the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Melia and 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara this season, along with stalwarts Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Seth Sinovic.
Sporting KC have not finished in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed since Vermes took over the head coaching job on a permanent basis in 2010. Their worst years were 2015 and 2016, when they finished ninth and sixth, respectively.
Vermes insists this year's defense is still capable of that kind of form. They just need to keep that belief.
“The biggest thing I want to make sure of is that we have the confidence,” Vermes said. “One of the reasons why over the last seven years, we’ve been one of the better defensive teams, is that we’ve been good in that regard. We’ve had good confidence, and we just have to keep doing that.”