KANSAS CITY, Kan. – One late hiccup aside, Sporting Kansas City's defense is still in near-impregnable form. But the early season's biggest test is now on the horizon.
After Sunday night's 3-1 home victory over the Colorado Rapids, which saw their bid for a fourth clean sheet in five matches broken up by a stoppage-time penalty kick, Sporting have conceded just twice this season and haven't yet given up a goal in the run of play.
“We're in a good spot right now in the way that we're playing and the way that we're reading each other,” center back and captain Matt Besler said afterward. “I feel like in the right moments, everybody's making plays. Each guy's stepping up, goalkeeper included.”
In Saturday’s opponent the Portland Timbers (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE), Sporting will face more firepower than they've seen to date.
Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri have scored five times each for the Timbers, who lead the league and the Western Conference with 13 points from six matches, and Portland have found the net 16 times through that stretch.
“Portland is extremely dangerous going forward,” Besler said. “They always have four or five guys who can beat you on the break, so keeping the ball is huge against them.”
Saturday's meeting at Providence Park is a clear strength-to-strength matchup – irresistible offense meeting immovable defense – and Sporting will be counting on their back six to come up big again.
Through five matches, manager Peter Vermes has been able to go with the same players in those spots: Tim Melia in goal, Seth Sinovic at left back, Besler and Ike Opara in the middle, Graham Zusi at right back and Ilie Sanchez in the defensive midfield spot.
“Habits are formed when you have more consistency,” Sinovic said on Sunday.
It's definitely a veteran group, with three players – Zusi, Besler and Sinovic – having been with the club for seven years or more. Ilie is the only newcomer to the team among the six, and the young FC Barcelona academy product has fit in well since day one, both in breaking up opposing possessions and in his linking play out of the back.
“The organization has been great,” Melia said. “We were keeping possession in the back better in this game than we did in the previous games, so I think there are a lot of positives moving forward.”
Vermes has always prized consistency in his lineups. But as he said in his postmatch news conference on Sunday, that has to be earned.
“Consistency only happens because you're playing well,” Vermes said. “That's normally the way it goes. You start changing things around because things are not working correctly. The consistency is happening because our performances are very good. I believe the players that are playing are all in good form.
“From [the players'] point of view, the consistency between each of them on the field helps them to really understand the tendencies of every player.”
On the other side, Sporting are starting to find their attack after opening the year with a pair of scoreless draws. Sunday night saw center forward Dom Dwyer score for the first time this season, new winger Gerso score for the first time in MLS – and Sinovic scored his first regular-season goal in eight MLS campaigns, an opportunistic putback in the sixth minute to set the tone for the evening.
“For the most part, we feel like we've played well this year and feel like we have created a lot of chances,” said Sinovic, who has two career goals in playoff action and one in CONCACAF Champions League play. “We knew it was only a matter of time and maybe it just took that one to get some momentum going.”