KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City have seen the tapes. They watched Portland’s mesmerizing home debut on ESPN2. They understand the affect the Timbers Army has on games in the Rose City.
But Sporting aren’t daunted. Not by the capacity crowds. Not by the roar of Timber Joey’s chainsaw. Not even by Portland’s sterling home record (5-2-1), which SKC will put to the test on Saturday night (11 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Manager Peter Vermes simply wants his team to be prepared for the kind box-to-box, hectic match that normally awaits visitors to JELD-WEN Field, where matches have averaged more than three goals every 90 minutes.
“When you play at different places, there is sometimes a lull in the game where you can catch your breath and sort of calm it down for a second,” Vermes said. “Games there have been end-to-end, 90-minutes plus. It’s up and down. That part is what we are going to have to be really alert and attentive to.”
Fortunately for Kansas City (4-6-5), the impenetrable fortress that JELD-WEN Field started out as has become more vulnerable during the past month. After winning their first five games at home, Portland (5-7-3) lost twice and drew in their previous three games in front of their own supporters, giving Sporting the feeling that they have as good a chance as any of walking away with a point or more.
“I think we can win this game,” Roger Espinoza said. “I know it’s one of the toughest places to go, just because the crowd keeps the team in the game. But we have everything going on our side, too.”
In Kansas City’s case, everything is a nine-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that has seen the club rise from last in the Eastern Conference to two points out of fourth place with two games in hand.
The bedrock of that run has been a stingy defense that has allowed just three goals over 810 minutes of play and hasn’t missed a beat on the road.
And while Sporting certainly don’t want their streak to come to an end, they aren’t putting too much stock in what they’ve done in the past. Right back Chance Myers, who has played every league minute since the run began, said it’s more about just being steady game to game rather than reading too far into what amounts to a talking point.
“We want to continue this streak,” Myers said, “but we don’t want to focus on that. We just want to continue to play well and perform like we know we can. Going into Portland is obviously a tough environment. They’ve done very well at home, but if we continue to play the way we have been, I don’t think we question the fact that we can go in there and get some points.”
To do that, they’ll have to keep Portland from winning free kicks in dangerous positions and keep the crowd as subdued as possible. Neither will be easy, but Kansas City won’t be caught off guard by what awaits them on the field or in the stands.
“I look at it as one of the biggest challenges of the year,” Vermes said.