On a cold December day, a soccer ball reverberated off a crossbar inside Children’s Mercy Park, and Sporting Kansas City charged the field to celebrate an MLS Cup championship.
For 1,239 days, that missed penalty kick stood as Sporting KC’s most recent MLS victory against rival Real Salt Lake.
The longstanding streak came to a long-awaited close in a downpour Saturday.
A Benny Feilhaber 20-yard strike provided the prologue to a 3-0 Sporting KC victory against Real Salt Lake that also included second-half goals by Dom Dwyer and Gerso Fernandes.
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The epilogue: Sporting KC broke a club record, extending its home unbeaten streak to 13 matches. It has not lost a home game since May 27, 2016.
“I just think we have a different mentality about us right now — we expect to win games,” Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “It’s great the way we’re coming out in the second half and just taking it to teams.”
Inside the dubbed “Blue Hell,” Sporting KC has outscored its last three opponents 8-2, each of them complete victories featuring impressive goals and better defense.
Even if the weather hasn’t cooperated, Sporting KC, 4-1-3, is undefeated across four home matches this season. The latest included a steady stream of rain for the match’s entirety.
Irrelevant, as it turned out.
Coming off its first loss of the season against FC Dallas, Sporting KC was crisp from the jump. It resulted in another beauty from Feilhaber in the 17th minute after the initial moments featured some hard tackles.
Graham Zusi set up the goal with a layoff pass that put the ball on a tee for Feilhaber, who plunked the inside of the opposite post from 20 yards away. Zusi recorded his 50th career assist in MLS play, fifth among active players.
“We just played smart — we didn’t get involved in those battles. It wasn’t a fight,” Dwyer said. “We just played (soccer), and I think we outplayed them.”
Dwyer added the insurance goal in the 52nd minute, his third in four matches after he was scoreless in the first four of 2017. Fernandes tapped in the third goal in extra time.
After his first tally of the season, Dwyer commented that he “needed” the goal to spark a streak. The gates have indeed opened since, with some variety sprinkled into the finishes. Dwyer scored a rare one with his right foot Saturday.
“I think if Dom has as good of a left foot as he does a right foot, he probably scores a couple more,” Feilhaber deadpanned.
Sporting KC had more than enough for the other half of the field, where the defense formulated its fifth shutout of the season. Goalkeeper Tim Melia made two saves for his fifth clean sheet, most in MLS.
Sporting KC started a string of six matches in 22 days Saturday. It will take a wave of confidence into a home match Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls.
“I think why we’re confident is that the guys believe in the way we want to play,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “You have a belief in what you’re doing and you have a belief in each other. It’s something that takes a long time to build with a team, but it’s nice that you can sense that belief in them for sure.”