There weren’t many scoring opportunities to speak of in Sporting Kansas City’s scoreless draw against the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Sporting Park.
Sporting KC’s two best chances came early and late in the match. Both were sent toward the goal off the head of defender Ike Opara. Both whistled wide of their intended target.
The crowd of 20,848 at Sporting Park, the club’s 55th consecutive MLS sellout, never got a chance to cut loose Saturday.
All Opara wanted was another chance to finish one of his two prime opportunities.
“I knew I put a good move on and I knew I was free. There’s no excuse for that,” Opara said of his first chance, which came off of a Marcel de Jong corner kick.
“One of my strengths is heading the ball, and from that far out, I should score that. There’s no excuse … We’ve gotta be happy with the chances, but we’ve got to be a little disappointed with the scoring. We’re getting ’em, we’re just not scoring ’em. That’s a little disappointing … if we keep getting these chances to score, we’re going to break out in one game, and hopefully it will go from there.”
The draw pulled Sporting KC, 0-1-2, out of the Western Conference cellar and into a four-way tie for seventh place early in the season. Expansion and realignment placed the club back in the rugged Western Conference this season.
While this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Sporting KC, there is little doubt that the West is best in the MLS, with the conference claiming five of the last six league titles. Sporting KC’s 2013 triumph is the lone exception.
While his club is still looking to crack the win column for the first time in 2015, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes liked what he saw Saturday night.
“The biggest thing for me is I thought we were very good on both sides of the ball,” Vermes said. “I thought we were excellent in our set pieces, very dangerous. I thought we could’ve scored, easy, two or three goals on the set pieces. Sometimes they don’t go in. To play like that, I like the way we’re progressing as a team, I like the way we’re starting to understand how we want to play. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The defensive lineup is far from set, especially with de Jong set to depart the club for an upcoming stint with the Canadian National Team, but Sporting KC got its first shutout of the season a week after coughing up three goals in last week’s loss to FC Dallas.
The Portland offense was locked down for a majority of the match. The only concern the Timbers caused came off of set pieces.
Defender Jalil Anibaba made his debut with Sporting KC. If Saturday’s performance is any indication, he’ll likely see more playing time in the immediate future.
“He was excellent, he really was. The objective was to keep him home a little bit more, because they like to break out with four guys all the time,” Vermes said. “I thought he was great in his individual duels. He made some very good decisions, and at the same time I thought he was very dangerous on a couple of set pieces.”
Sporting KC will head to New York next week for its first match against expansion club NYCFC. It hopes to come back to the Midwest with a victory.
“I think we had better chances. I think Ike should’ve put one of his two away,” Vermes said. “Because the chances we had were more clear-cut, I think we should’ve walked away with the three (points). I’m always more concerned when you don’t make chances. I have a lot of confidence in our team and their ability to score goals. I really do.”