KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Looking at the stat sheet alone, it might seem that Sporting Kansas City are being carried by their backline and 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen. But that doesn't tell the full story, their manager says.
Sporting are tied with the Montreal Impact and Seattle Sounders for fewest goals allowed, conceding just five times in eight matches – two more than either the Impact or Sounders have played. (They would have first place to themselves, but for Marcelo Sarvas' controversial goal in Saturday's 2-0 away defeat to the LA Galaxy.)
At the other end of the pitch, though, Kansas City are squarely in the middle of the pack. Their eight goals scored rank 10th out of 19 teams – and while it's still early days, that's well off pace for matching their 42 goals last season, which ranked them 12th in the league.
But in his office on Tuesday, manager Peter Vermes played down any talk of offensive malaise.
“I think we're good,” he said. “I guess I'm not – I would say that it's fine, because it's not anything I'm really concerned about. If I was, I'd be trying to figure out a lot of different things, and I'm not.”
Those who say the offense isn't doing its share, Vermes told MLSsoccer.com, don't take into account three things.
One, Sporting's scoreless draw at the New England Revolution on March 23 was played in high, gusty winds that forced them to abandon their usual high press and concentrate only on keeping the ball out of their own net.
Two, Vermes has never been shy in his assertion that other clubs – especially visitors to Sporting Park – sit back and play for a point rather than engaging Sporting's high press.
“To make an evaluation of a result and how we played, it has to be factored in what the other team does,” he said. “You can't just look at what one team does. You have to evaluate the entire game.”
And three, Sporting still lead the East by a point over the Houston Dynamo despite Saturday's loss, which broke a three-game winning string and five-game unbeaten streak. And they've done that with midfielder Roger Espinoza departed to England and winger Kei Kamara on loan there, with veteran defender-midfielder Júlio César waived after last season, and with forwards Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson yet to return from 2012 surgeries.
“Do you want all of your players available all season? Sure,” he said. “But we knew coming into this year that wasn't going to be the case. But we're in a good place on the table at the moment, and that's the point of all this – trying to keep yourself in a good position, in a good striking distance for everything.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.