By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 16, 2023) US Soccer Players – Sporting Kansas City suffered through a difficult start to the 2023 MLS season but is now showing how quickly a club can move up the conference standings. The club has just a single loss in its last eight matches and is unbeaten in its last four.
Last Saturday, Sporting romped to a 4-1 home win over Austin FC. That extended the unbeaten run, adding three more points for a total of ten in that span. For comparison, it took Sporting 13 games to get its first ten points of the season.
The discussions were different just a month ago when Sporting failed to register a single win through its first ten games of the campaign. The club narrowly avoided making dismal history with that start, only bettering the 2019 Colorado Rapids by a single point. When the calendar turned to May, Sporting had just three points. Winger Johnny Russell summed it up when he told reporters following a 2-0 home loss against Montreal, “I don’t know how you fix it.”
Sporting’s owner stayed the course, trusting that coach Peter Vermes would find a way to turn things around. As was the case in 2022 when Sporting finished 12th in the Western Conference and missed the MLS Cup playoffs, injuries had an outsized impact on results. Following the win over Austin, Vermes outlined how poorly timed absences impacted performance.
“When a team is missing as many guys as we were in the beginning of the year, what happens is that – and it’s never any disrespect to the other players – it’s just that they’re key players within the group,” Vermes explained. “So once those guys get into the team and then the team starts to play, not just win, but their performance is good, you have good form within the group.”
Vermes pointed to a game in early April, when Sporting was still weeks away from its first victory of the season, as a sign that things were already improving. On April 2, Sporting traveled to Philadelphia and played the Union to a 0-0 draw. “Nobody really gave us too much credit for that result,” he said. “But that’s a really difficult place to go in and play and to get a result like we did.”
It’s easy to point to the form of certain individual players in an attempt to explain Sporting’s about-face. Forward Alan Pulido, back from a long-term injury that prevented him from playing at all in 2022, won MLS Player of the Matchday with a two-goal, one-assist day against Austin.
9th-place Sporting KC hosts 3rd-place LAFC on Saturday with a chance to separate the club from the team ahead of it and the two behind it, all four tied on 20 points but with Sporting on an extra game played. But there’s greater possibilities for the team for Vermes, who never wavered in his faith that the performances and the results would get better. With Sporting already climbing out of the hole it dug for itself through those first ten games, there’s also no reason to doubt.
“I think the word is ‘believe’. I’ve said that from the beginning,” Vermes said. “I believe in the group. I said that I was probably going to have to be the most patient person within the organization just waiting for guys to get back and not putting them in harms way. So I think it all comes down to the fact that there is a belief in the group.”
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Bill Barrett – ISIPhotos.com