An effort to supplant the offense with youth, speed and perhaps just something different led Sporting Kansas City to Lisbon, Portugal. After a couple of visits there, the club tabbed Gerso Fernandes as its top offseason target.
He seemingly possessed all of the attributes. Well, with one exception — in six seasons, he had never scored more than five goals, prompting a wave of doubt if Sporting KC had really done enough to infuse a stale attack.
The last bit of that doubt evaporated on a gorgeous Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
Fernandes tallied the first Sporting KC hat trick in seven seasons, the overwhelming force of a 3-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC that propelled Sporting back atop the Western Conference standings.
“Things are changing,” Fernandes said succinctly. “The team is helping me. The coach is helping me. So I’m scoring more goals than usual.”
The entire night boiled down to a 14-minute stretch. After a lackluster opening half in which Sporting KC did not even attempt a shot, Fernandes beat Seattle keeper Stefan Frei three times from close range in the 56th, 58th and 69th minutes. It marked Sporting KC’s first hat trick since Birahim Diop recorded one in October 2010.
Oh, and Fernandes matched that career high of five professional goals in one season. He has 22 games left to set a new mark.
“Basically, (coach) Peter (Vermes) had to scream at us in the locker room,” Fernandes said.
“That’s true,” Vermes responded.
Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber called Vermes’ speech a fiery one. A much-needed one, too. Whatever the reason, Sporting KC didn’t lack for tenacity after halftime.
It broke the scoreless tie off the spill of a corner kick, when Fernandes stepped into traffic and clipped a low shot though the Seattle defense. For his second goal, his initial shot hit the post, but he gathered the rebound and put it in the back of the net. To complete the hat track, he simply awaited a perfect pass from defender Graham Zusi on the right channel.
Each goal was followed with a bat-swing goal celebration that is becoming a recognizable sight at Children’s Mercy Park.
Scoring “wasn’t necessarily his responsibility on the team that he played, so when he came here, I said he’s going to find himself in a lot of positions that he didn’t find himself in with his old team, which is front of the goal,” Vermes said. “So he’s going to have to get the mentality that you’re going to have to take those chances as opposed to always giving the ball to someone else.
“He’s been getting accustomed to that pretty well.”
The victory pushed Sporting Kansas City’s home unbeaten streak to a club record 15 matches. The next time Sporting KC plays on its home field, it will have been more than a year since it lost a match there. The defense and goalkeeper Tim Melia have posted seven shutouts in 12 matches.
For one night inside Children’s Mercy Park, however, that was all a footnote. All of it an afterthought to Fernandes.
When Fernandes’ night was finished, the Cauldron fans chanted his name. Fernandes said he didn’t initially hear it, but a pair of teammates pushed him toward the crowd. Fernandes removed his jersey and flung it over his head and into the stands.
“I was feeling good,” he said. “It was a good night.”
Sporting Kansas City 3, Seattle 0
SEATTLE: Stefan Frei; Chad Marshall, Tony Alfaro, Oniel Fisher (Brad Evans, 78th), Jordy Delem; Gustav Svensson (Harry Shipp, 72nd), Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris (Seyi Adekoya, 77th), Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin.
SPORTING KC: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Benny Feilhaber (Daniel Salloi, 89th), Ilie, Roger Espinoza; Gerso Fernandes (Latif Blessing, 83rd), Dom Dwyer, Jimmy Medranda (Soni Mustivar, 79th).
Sporting KC: 1. Fernandes (unassisted), 56th minute. 2. Fernandes (unassisted), 58th. 3. Fernandes (Zusi, Feilhaber), 69th.
Shots on goal
Seattle: Delem (unsporting behavior), 3rd; Alfaro (unsporting behavior), 85th.
Sporting KC: none
Referee: Ted Unkel
Assistant referees: Joe Fletcher, Adam Wienckowski
Fourth official: Sorin Stoica