Diego Rubio making center forward position his own in Dom Dwyer's wake

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Diego Rubio never assumed the starting center forward job was his after Sporting Kansas City traded Dom Dwyer to Orlando last month.

Instead, he went out on the field and made sure no one else took it.

Rubio continued that process with a thundering set-piece volley in the 42nd minute of Saturday's 2-0 home victory over FC Dallas. That was his third goal in his past six starts in all competitions. And the Chilean is only getting stronger as he works back from the ACL injury that ended his 2016 season early.

“I think always you have pressure,” Rubio said after Saturday's match. “Of course, we all knew that they traded Dom, and I think we have a group of guys that want to fight for that spot in the team. Nobody feels that they have this spot, so every player is working every day, every training to start.”

Playing behind Dwyer and others, the 24-year-old Rubio has still only made 22 MLS appearances since he joined manager Peter Vermes' squad at the beginning of the 2016 season.

“I just think he’s slowly getting back to where he was before he got injured and he’s getting form every time he plays,” Vermes said. “When you get game after game and you play and you get good rhythm like he has, you wind up getting good form. He fits really well into the way we play. The guys have a lot of confidence in him and he has a lot of confidence in himself, and it’s not easy from a central defender perspective to try to mark him, just because he’s very shifty. 

“He has a low center of gravity, very good on the ball, can play through him, can do combination play with him so he’s a tough guy and he’s also really, really good in the air.”

At the other end of the pitch, Sporting rang up their league-leading 10th clean sheet of the year – their first in league play since June 17. Four of their seven MLS matches between then and Saturday night had ended in 1-1 draws – tough results for a defensive-minded side scrapping to stay at the top of the Western Conference table.

“This comes at a really important time,” said keeper Tim Melia, who recorded his 13th shutout across all competitions. “As you know, the Western Conference is heating up and things are super tight, and it’s a really important game, trying to keep those guys behind us.”

Sporting sealed the deal with a long curler from Gerso in the second minute of stoppage time and guaranteed at least a share of the West lead by limiting Dallas to two shots on goal. 

“I thought we, for the most part, were extremely organized and then on the final play we made the right decision,” center back and captain Matt Besler said. “It’s something we always train and we know what to do, but sometimes you’re not able to make the final play."

Several of those plays especially stood out – such as when Jimmy Medranda ran down Tesho Akindele in the 74th minute and hooked the ball away over the end line.

“Jimmy is just such a good tackler,” Melia said. “Jimmy, for me, is one of the most technical players on this team. His ceiling is so high.”

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