Sporting KC looks for better defensive performance Friday against the Houston Dynamo

08/28/2014 11:45 PM

08/29/2014 5:01 PM

Peter Vermes spent his high school and college playing careers as a forward with a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net. He played a similar role in the first half of his professional career, and his goal-scoring ability landed him a spot on the United States men’s national team.

But a couple of years after joining Major League Soccer, Vermes made the switch to defense — a move he says extended his playing career.

It also produced his coaching style.

Vermes built his Sporting Kansas City teams around a talented, well-organized back line. The club has led the league in goals-against each of the past two seasons and is on pace to make it three straight.

But that back line wasn’t very impressive in a 3-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday, a defeat that cost Sporting KC its spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. Vermes blasted his back line after the match and blamed the veteran group’s lack of organization for all three goals.

A week later, the message has sunk in.

Asked Thursday if the coach’s words stung, defender Seth Sinovic replied, “I think the 3-0 loss stung more than anything. Looking back at the tape, those are mistakes that shouldn’t happen, especially to a back four with three of us that are very familiar and comfortable with each other. We’re obviously very disappointed with that performance, and we’ll have it corrected Friday.”

The performance could turn out to be an anomaly — though Sporting KC hasn’t posted a shutout since June 27 — but Vermes isn’t taking chances. He hinted there could be performance-driven personnel changes to the back line Friday, when Sporting KC plays host to Houston, a club Sporting still considers its biggest rival.

The performance of the defense was a major point of emphasis during training this week — even if the disappointing result was never specifically mentioned.

“I have not had a conversation with the team about the game, other than at halftime,” Vermes said. “As a matter of fact, the thing that we worked on (this week) was certain aspects of defending — as well as other things, but there was an emphasis on some defending stuff.

“There are times I believe a talk or a meeting can solve certain issues. There are other times I believe talk is cheap. Right now, we know what we have to do. We just have to go do it.”

The significance of a quality defensive performance takes on even more weight with the fluidity in goal. In addition to serving as the final line of defense, the goalkeeper plays a vocal role in keeping the back line organized.

Jon Kempin is in line for his third straight start tonight after opening the season third on the depth chart.

Opening-day starter Eric Kronberg posted seven shutouts in 17 games before breaking a bone in his left hand. The combination of Andy Gruenebaum and Kempin, on the other hand, hasn't produced any clean sheets in the ensuing eight games.

“We’ve been dealing with that from the start of the year, whether it’s the goalkeeper or different players all over the field. It’s not an excuse," Sinovic said. “... It’s something we should be used to by now. It’s something we should be comfortable with by now."

To reach Sam McDowell, send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.

HOUSTON AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY

WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Sporting Park

TV/RADIO: NBCSN; WHB (810 AM), La Gran D (1340 AM)

ABOUT HOUSTON (7-13-4): The Dynamo owns the league’s worst road record, with only one victory in 12 away matches. That includes a club-record seven straight road losses. ... Midseason acquisition DaMarcus Beasley is nursing a tight hamstring and is questionable.

ABOUT SPORTING KC (12-7-6): The club fell to second place after last weekend’s loss to D.C. United, only its second home defeat of the season. ... Midfielder Paulo Nagamura was a full participant in training this week, but he is not ready to return to game action. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum will also sit out with a shoulder injury.

BOTTOM LINE: Sporting Park is set to welcome its 50th consecutive MLS sellout Friday. The crowd should be in line to see some scoring opportunities from its home team. Houston has allowed a league-worst 45 goals this season.

PREDICTION: Sporting KC 3, Houston 1

| Sam McDowell, smcdowell@kcstar.com

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