KANSAS CITY, Kan. – At least Sporting Kansas City didn't have to play from behind this time.
Giveaways by the back line staked opponents to early leads in Kansas City's first two games, but the defense – even with a new right back making his first MLS start – gave up little to defensive-minded Chicago Fire in Saturday's scoreless home opener.
“You have to learn from your mistakes,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “We talked a lot about, 'We don't have to give any cheap chances away.' If your opponent is going to score, they've got to do a good job to score a goal. I think we did a very good job on that today. They had a couple of chances, but we dominated the game completely.”
Nielsen and manager Peter Vermes both praised newcomer Mechack Jerome's performance in place of right back Chance Myers, who was out with a nagging quad strain he picked up in the preseason.
“Outstanding,” Nielsen said. “I think he did very well defensively, and offensively as well. No surprise. He showed in the preseason that he has a lot of quality in him. He did excellent.”
Jerome began the year with Sporting's affiliate club, Orlando City SC, and signed with Kansas City two days before the season.
“Defensively, he was a rock,” Vermes said. “I would say if he had 10 balls – which he didn’t; he had a lot more – I would say he probably made eight great decisions. So he had a really solid performance and I thought defensively he was very, very good.”
The Fire did threaten Sporting's net in the 90th minute, when Dan Paladini got 1-v-1 against Nielsen, but the veteran keeper kept the winless visitors from stealing all three points with a sliding leg save.
“I told myself in the 85th minute, when I was damn freezing, 'I've got to keep myself warm. I've got to keep myself warm,'” Nielsen said. “I figured they might have one chance left.”
Despite the blank scoreline, Vermes was pleased with his club's play.
“I'm disappointed with the fact that we didn't get three points,” he said in the postgame news conference, “but I can't by any means be disappointed with the performance of the team.”
Sporting dominated possession 73 percent to 27 percent, with Chicago often content to sit back and look for the counter.
“There's nothing you can do when a team drops nine guys into a 24-yard space,” Vermes said. “That's always going to be difficult.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.