KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Here are two facts: 1) Sporting Kansas City are MLS' most dangerous aerial goal-scoring team, and 2) the San Jose Earthquakes are struggling to score this season -- only 25 goals scored, 4th fewest in the league.
Those two facts don't stop Sporting manager Peter Vermes from being concerned that the Earthquakes could reverse those facts and have a breakout game against his club on Sunday at Buck Shaw Stadium (10 pm ET, MLS Live).
“They have some of the most service in the box, out of the whole league,” Vermes said on Wednesday, during the club's weekly news conference. “And I mean from everywhere: from the sidelines, from deep. They play a lot of balls into certain zones, and their big guys up front wind up winning or knocking those balls for second balls, which they're really good at.”
The Quakes haven't converted on those opportunities the way they did in 2012, though. San Jose scored 72 goals in 34 matches last year, setting a league record on their way to the Supporters Shield. But this season, they have just 25 through 24 and currently sit in 8th place in the Western Conference.
Eastern Conference-leading Sporting have scored 36 times, including a league-best nine headed goals – two of those from forward Kei Kamara in last weekend's 3-0 win over New England – and 10 headed goals across all competitions.
“I think it is two things: It's service and movement in the box,” Vermes said after last week's match. “We get a lot of service in the box. When you get good runs, then all of a sudden, you start to get the real chances on goal. We have some pretty dangerous players.”
Sporting are no slouches at defending in the air in their own area, either, with a back line anchored by All-Star center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. Still, Vermes said his club can't take aerial supremacy for granted against the physical Quakes, who boast big forwards like Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, not to mention the reigning Golden Boot winner, Chris Wondolowski.
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“There's a lot of confusion in the box, because they get a lot of numbers in the box,” he said. “So what happens is that they float a ball in there – and you might win the first ball, and the ball drops down. They've got a lot of guys around there, and the ball's bouncing around, and sometimes the ball just gets lucky and drops to the right guy, and he winds up getting a hit on it.
“So in those moments, we've got to be really alert and attentive to all those second balls dropping down, and we've got to make sure we clear the area and not mess around with the ball,” he went on. “And also, when we clear the first one, we've got to get it going out wide and high as opposed to down the middle.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.