KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City collectively held their breath when Felipe Gutierrez came off injured in the second half of their 1-0 victory over D.C. United.
The Chilean has orchestrated a significant portion of Sporting KC’s goals. He's scored five himself, which is good for the MLS scoring lead, and three of those are game-winners. There's no way his offensive output could've been expected, but with Kansas City struggling defensively at times, it's also been crucial.
“He said he’s going to score a goal in every game, so he’s on track for that right now,” KC coach Peter Vermes quipped. “I think the thing about him is he’s getting in good positions. As I said to the guys, ‘If you don’t shoot, you can’t score.’”
Shoot your shot? Seems about right. But it’s just not that simple.
To understand where Gutierrez’s outbreak is coming from, take a closer look at the midfield. With Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza alongside Gutierrez, Sporting KC have one of the harder working engines in the league.
“Those players all complement eachother really well,” Vermes said. “I didn’t sit in my basement trying to come up with some formula to figure this out. They all have very good soccer IQ’s, which in turn allow them to understand the movement.”
Gutierrez also credits his midfield partners' contributions for the group’s early success.
“It’s very important to play with two guys like them,” Gutierrez said. “Ilie is very good in the way he likes to play. He’s fantastic because he likes to play out of the back. Roger is great to play alongside because he has the spirit to fight for every ball.”
Ilie typically sits deep and helps Sporting play out of the back. Espinoza has also taken on the role of a shuttling, box-to box midfielder, putting in tackles all over the field. In many years past, Benny Feilhaber would’ve sat in the No. 10 role in the midfield three. Now, it’s Gutierrez. So, what’s different?
“What I like is that he’s a very penetrating player out of the midfield,” Vermes said. “The way that we play, he has the ability to do that.”
But Vermes was quick to point out that it’s not just a product of what he brings to the table.
“It happens because other players take on other roles that gives him the freedom to do some of that stuff [more aggressive attacking play],” Vermes said. “If things weren’t set up the right way, that could be a negative because one person leaves the midfield a lot and leaves us unbalanced. But because the other players understand how we want to move and allocate ourselves on the field, it gives him a lot of freedom to be able to do that."
Gutierrez is questionable for Sunday's match against the LA Galaxy (9 pm ET; FS1 — full TV & streaming info), as he is nursing a hip injury.