During the early minutes Sunday against Chivas USA, Jacob Peterson made a mad dash diagonally through the penalty box and narrowly missed redirecting a pass from Graham Zusi into the net with a sliding attempt.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
With the first half coming to an end, Peterson made another long run to pressure Chivas right back Bobby Burling into a turnover that — after a square ball from Zusi — led to Claudio Bieler’s 41st-minute goal.
“Jake’s a guy who we put on the field a lot because of his hustle,” Zusi said. “His work rate is so high, and that creates chances. If he doesn’t go and press that ball, it doesn’t fall to me and I’m not able to play Claudio.”
Peterson didn’t get an assist — and didn’t want one when asked about it after the game — but his impact goes deeper than the stat sheet.
Few players in MLS display the relentlessness that has become a hallmark for Peterson, a forward who signed with Sporting Kansas City prior to the 2012 season and has emerged as a fan favorite because of his constant hustle.
“What Jake does is he has great movement off the ball and without the ball,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. “That forces other teams to make decisions.”
Often, those decisions wind up being hurried and ill-advised when Peterson is in dogged pursuit.
He’s not the biggest player, nor the fastest, but he makes an impact by outworking the other team. It might not take any talent to hustle, but Peterson has elevated unceasing work rate to an art form.
“It’s a different type of skill,” Peterson said. “It’s a mental thing. It’s a mentality. A lot of the guys on the team have it and that’s why we’ve been successful for a couple of years. I think Peter instills that. It’s one of the things he built his career on. He was a no-nonsense type of guy, and I think that’s leaked down into the team.”
Peterson, who made his season debut April 27 against the Portland Timbers FC and started for the first time against Chivas, missed nearly two months after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason.
After a lethargic performance in a 3-2 loss against the Timbers, inserting Peterson into the lineup made perfect sense and helped Sporting KC get a 4-0 win in addition to moving back atop the Eastern Conference.
“Realistically, he’s not even 60 minutes fit, although he did play it today,” Vermes said. “He gives us a great injection in terms of how we want to play and the tempo we want to play at.
“His movement off the ball is the big to the way that we want to play. That’s one of the issues, when other players aren’t doing that, they take away a very important part of our game. The great thing is now he’s back.”
Vermes has one less decision to make regarding his game-day roster after the MLS Disciplinary Committee suspended midfielder Paulo Nagamura for one game and fined him an undisclosed amount for “violent conduct” and “disregard for his opponent’s safety.”
Nagamura stepped on Chivas USA midfielder Edgar Mejia’s hand as Mejia was on the ground during the 52nd minute Sunday in Sporting KC’s 4-0 win.
Mejia had flopped to the ground and drawn a foul when challenged by Nagamura moments earlier.
Acquired in an offseason trade, Sporting Kansas City midfielder Josh Gardner got on the field for the first time Sunday, notching an assist on Graham Zusi’s goal only 8 minutes after entering the match.
“It was a great moment for me and special to get out there and be able to play a little more attacking style,” said Gardner, who spent time with the LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew before playing six games with the Montreal Impact last season.
Of course, Gardner’s club debut also is destined to be the second-best moment of his week.
“My wife is about to give birth to our third baby, another boy,” said Gardner, who already has a son and daughter. “They were at the game tonight, so it’s very special. Hopefully, we’ll have a baby this week.”
Just not tonight, when Sporting KC is playing the Seattle Sounders FC.
“She’s trying to ask me what days work best for, but we’ll see,” Gardner joked.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.