Sporting Kansas City seeing benefits of balanced attack

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – So who’s going to come up with the next big scoring game for Sporting Kansas City?

Just over a third of the way into the season, the club that couldn’t seem to find the net in March is suddenly full of breakout threats, with multi-goal outings from two newcomers in their last two matches.

Gerso is the most recent, the Guinea-Bissau native recording Kansas City’s first MLS hat trick since 2010 in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders. Last weekend, Latif Blessing – making his first MLS start with center forward Dom Dwyer out on caution accumulation – scored a brace in a 2-2 away draw against Orlando City.

Dwyer also has a two-goal game this season for Sporting, who were held to scoreless draws in three of their first four matches this season, and he and Gerso share the team lead with five goals each.

“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who has scored twice this season as well. “We’re a team that I don’t think necessarily depends on scoring a ton of goals every game. We have, obviously, a team-defense mentality that’s probably stronger than it’s been in the last few years.

“We get timely goals, from different people, for sure – we can get goals from Dom, from Gerso, from myself. Roger [Espinoza] gets goals every once in a while. Jimmy [Medranda] will eventually get some goals as well. There’s guys off the bench that can get goals as well, so that’s important. There’s no doubt about it. It’s tough, especially when you play in a system with one striker with two wingers up there, if you solely depend on the striker to get goals.”

In addition to spreading out the scoring, Sporting have been adept at throwing different attack styles at opposing defenses.

Gerso’s three goals on Wednesday came on a roller out of traffic following a set piece, a putback after his first shot smacked the crossbar, and a finish to a perfectly executed counter through Feilhaber and right back Graham Zusi. The last goal demonstrated not only Sporting’s aggressiveness at its best, but also how well Gerso and Zusi, a former winger himself, are adjusting to playing together.

“You look at the way we went on the counter, and how many guys were trying to run to get on the end of that ball,” Vermes said. “And for Benny to have the patience to let Zusi’s run develop up the field and push him through, and for Zusi to not just serve the ball blindly into the box, but to cut it back for Gerso to make the run from the left side – you have to look at it in its entirety.

“And it’s not just that – it’s the movement of the players, it’s the unselfishness, it’s the running off the ball, all of those things are very good. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better and get more and more confidence from what we’re accomplishing thus far.”

Blessing, meanwhile, poached both of his goals against Orlando City from close range after saves by Joe Bendik. Feilhaber is always a threat to unlock a defense from distance. Even Dwyer has been harder for opposing defenses to key on this season, with the left-footed striker scoring his last three goals from the right side.

“That’s valuable,” Feilhaber said. “It makes you more difficult to defend. If you score from distance, they can’t give you those opportunities. If they push up, then you’re able to play balls in behind. Poaching goals is a big thing for us as well, because the other team can’t relax for a minute because we’re able to get goals at opportune moments.”