During the last 14 years, Sporting Kansas City is 9-1-4 in its home opener.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Three of those draws now have been of the scoreless variety against the Chicago Fire after a 0-0 match Saturday at Sporting Park.
Winless in two games after getting shut out by the Los Angeles Galaxy and New England Revolution kicking off the season, Chicago didn’t seem to have much interest in playing soccer against Sporting KC and instead kept numbers behind the ball in a snooze-fest reminiscent of the inaugural game at the stadium two years ago.
“It’s a tactic, and I can’t fault anybody for doing it,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “If they do it, they do it. That’s the way they play, but obviously that’s not our style, but I think you’re playing with fire — no pun intended.”
The Fire, 0-2-1, who had been outscored 5-0 in the first two games, were content to sit back much of the night and let Sporting KC control possession.
As a result, the stats were one-sided with Sporting KC, 1-1-1, holding the ball 73 percent of the time and logging 608 passes — with an impressive 82 percent success rate — compared with only 221 for Chicago, whose passing accuracy was below 60 percent.
“Other teams know we’re a pretty good possession team, and if that’s how other teams want to defend, it’s fine,” midfielder Paulo Nagamura said. “If they can defend for the full 90 minutes, that’s great for them. We actually like it, because it gives us more time on the ball and more possession, which is how we want to play.”
Sporting KC also suffered a league-high 20 fouls as the Fire, who also racked up four yellow cards.
“I promised myself I would not complain too much about that, because it’s one of the things we can’t do much about,” Sporting KC goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said. “But we have to be better in creating chances with all that possession.”
Sporting KC outshot the Fire 20-7, but only put three of those shots on goal, while Chicago managed one shot on goal.
In other words, there wasn’t much for the crowd of 19,868 — the 17th straight sellout for Sporting KC — to get excited about.
“We still need that final ball,” forward C.J. Sapong said. “We did well to keep it in their half, but every time we played the final ball it was either too hard or maybe we took a bad touch. The execution part in the final piece of the puzzle is what was missing.”
Chances were few and far between.
Making his first MLS start in place of injured right back Chance Myers, defender Mechack Jerome tested Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson with a 25-foot roller in the 13th minute.
One minute after coming on for midfielder Benny Feilhaber in the 77th minute, forward Soony Saad ripped a 20-yard curling shot toward the near post from the left flank, missing the potential game-winner by a foot.
“When I come on, I want to make an impact — and I like to shoot,” Saad said. “Hopefully, next time it goes in. I knew I was one-on-one with a defender, and I knew I had to make something happen.”
With the Fire finally pressing a bit, hoping to steal a win off a fluke goal or careless play defensively, Sporting KC sprung forward on the counterattack in the 86th minute.
A nifty back-and-forth between Zusi and Sapong led to a chance from 12 yards out by Zusi, but the shot sailed high.
Chicago nearly succeeded in stealing the game during the 90th minute when midfielder Dan Paladini had a one-on-one opportunity off a through pass from Chris Rolfe, but Nielsen met the ball near the penalty-kick spot and cleared it to Aurelien Collin with a sliding save.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that we didn’t get three points, but I can’t, by any means, be disappointed with the performance of the team,” Vermes said. “The performance of the team was fantastic. … There’s nothing you can do when a team drops nine guys within a 24-yard space.”